Like every county, Mayo have now played four games of their 2019 Allianz National League campaign. The League is the perfect format for each county to pit themselves against teams of a similar standard, thereby providing an accurate gauge for fans of where their team stands in the overall pecking order.
In my view, the League structure is the format which should be promulgated as the primary football competition, with the ultimate prize for success being Sam Maguire. The provincial championship is becoming increasingly redundant but we shall save that debate for another day.
Even at this early stage we have now seen a sufficient body of work to get an insight into how 2019 is shaping up for each county. With apologies in advance to the Model County, here are my full 1-32 mid-League ratings:
1. Dublin (Div 1 – W2 D0 L2)
Whilst not operating at full tilt by their usual impeccable standards, the Dubs unquestionably remain the team to beat. However, Jim Gavin won’t like that in losing two of their first four games; they have let their cloak of invincibility slip slightly. This was somewhat rectified against Mayo. Their quality and strength in depth is frightening and they remain the standard bearers which the chasing pack needs to catch. Following victory over Mayo, and with a kind fixture list remaining, a seventh league final in a row now looks more probable than possible.
2. Kerry (Div 1 – W4 D0 L0)
The Kingdom are arguably the best placed team to topple Dublin and prevent the dreaded drive-for-five. Kerry’s league campaign to date has been by far the most impressive of any team and their victory over Dublin in Tralee will have given them great confidence. In Sean O’Shea and Dara Moynihan, they look to have unearthed two top class young forwards that will slot straight into their championship fifteen along with the irrepressible David Clifford to return when fit. Question marks remain about their full-back line but a league final in April looks a certainty at this stage. One win out of their remaining three games should be sufficient.
3. Mayo (Div 1 – W3 D0 L1)
What a difference one game makes! Hope and optimism after three games have been replaced with a sense of foreboding after four. Phenomenal in Omagh; frustrating in Dublin. However, there are positives. Fionn McDonagh has proved to be a real find and Brian Reape has raw potential that can be harnessed up front. Add in encouraging showings from Michael Plunkett, Matthew Ruane and Ciaran Treacy and Mayo can be content that they are bringing through fresh blood. Mayo also have the best defensive record in Division 1 to date. The Aidan O’Shea riddle and how best to employ him has not gone away. My own preference would be to utilise him at 14 as I think he slows the pace of our attack down around the middle. Perhaps by playing him closer to goal he might learn that he is also allowed to shoot as well as laterally hand pass. His performance against Dublin was one we’ve witnessed all too often against the same opposition. League final destiny remains in Mayo’s own hands but more likely than not they will fall short this year.
4. Galway (Div 1 – W2 D0 L2)
Not pretty to watch, but quietly effective. Kevin Walsh has come under criticism for his side’s defensive style of play. This is borne out with Galway being the lowest scorers in Division 1, averaging just 11 points per game. However, there is a steely determination to this side and with Ian Burke and Damien Comer to come back in for the Championship alongside Shane Walsh, the Tribesmen have some of the classiest forwards in the country. This weekend’s game against Mayo will tell a lot for both teams and Galway will look to continue their recent dominance over their neighbours. Unlikely to make a League final again this year and will need one more win to stave off any relegation fears.
5. Tyrone (Div 1 – W1 D1 L2)
It is very hard to gauge where exactly Tyrone are at, and they only rose above Monaghan in my rankings on the back of last Saturday night’s convincing victory. They were abysmal against Mayo in Omagh. I walked out of Healy Park with the view that Mickey Harte’s reign should come to an end this year. He is an Arsene Wenger type figure and similarly, the second half of his tenure with Tyrone has not matched the first. Like Galway, in order to make the next step, they need to develop a more productive attacking platform. A victory over Cavan this weekend should go a long way to securing Division One status for another year and they should have enough about them to do so.
6. Monaghan (Div 1 – W1 D0 L3)
After a fantastic opening weekend victory over Dublin which gave encouragement to the whole country, Monaghan have been by far the most disappointing team in Division One. Three defeats in succession have followed and the narrow defeats to Roscommon and Galway have proved galling. They are an experienced group with a manager who generally gets the best out of them, and will prove difficult opposition for anyone in the summer. However, for now they are very much in a relegation battle and the Farneymen will travel to Castlebar on the last day of the campaign. It is likely they will need victory to retain Division One status if their fate has not already been sealed by then.
7. Donegal (Div 2 – W2 D0 L2)
It has been an inconsistent campaign so far for Donegal with a surprise loss to Tipperary having been the standout result. Declan Bonnar has a lot of good young players to work with and reaching the Super 8s last year, playing a more attractive brand of football than previous regimes, was a laudable achievement. Donegal will look to push on this year though. Ulster success and reaching an All Ireland semi-final are difficult but achievable aims. Donegal are looking to return to Division One at the first time of asking and they have left themselves with work to do to gain promotion. In an ultra-competitive group, Donegal will need to win at least two of their remaining three games to reach a Division Two final.
8. Roscommon (Div. 1 – W1 D1 L2)
Competitive is one word to describe Roscommon’s first three games. All the more reason why their chastening Round 4 defeat to relegation rivals Cavan will have come as a surprise to Anthony Cunningham. Roscommon seemed to have Cavan’s number in recent years but Cavan inflicted revenge in style with a nine-point victory last Sunday. Roscommon should be sitting pretty on four points but for an idiotic retaliation from Ultan Harney to a Roscommon 20-metre free costing them victory over Tyrone. They may rue that error as that draw earned by Tyrone may prove invaluable in their own retention of Division One status. Roscommon have difficult fixtures to come with Galway away and Kerry and Dublin at home on the horizon. May find it too difficult to find the victory they need.
9. Meath (Div 2 – W3 D0 L1)
Meath have been very impressive in the League thus far, and could be on maximum points save for a late goalkeeping blunder and collapse away to Donegal in Round 2. That said, Andy McEntee can be very satisfied with the development of his young team with Mickey Newman in fine form up front. Having been kept apart from Dublin in the Leinster Championship draw, a Leinster final place should be an obtainable goal in 2019. If they can ally that with promotion to Division One, then 2019 could be the year the Royal County return closer to the top table.
10. Kildare (Div 2 – W2 D1 L1)
It seems a long time since “Newbridge or Nowhere”, and the whole debacle ultimately proved to be a key factor in Cian O’Neill keeping his job. The wagons were circling on O’Neill prior to that calamity but qualifying for the Super 8s put a healthy gloss on what had looked like a disastrous 2018. Daniel Flynn’s absence may be felt later in the year as he seemed to be on a trajectory of developing into a first-class marksman. Promotion straight back to Division One is in their own hands. A positive result against rivals Meath in Navan this Sunday may be required to achieve this.
11. Armagh (Div 2 – W1 D2 L1)
The Orchard County were my favourites to gain promotion to Division One at the start of this campaign and after a far from impeccable start, they are primed in a much healthier position following victory over Tipperary last weekend. Armagh have quality forwards and Mayo would love to have players of the calibre of Rory Grugan, Stefan Campbell and the swashbuckling Jamie Clarke in their armoury. Is Kieran McGeeney maximising the potential of this group of players? This season is a big year for him as his Ulster Championship record as a manager has been abysmal. A challenge for the Anglo Celt cup is a must this year. Promotion is still also on the cards but looks unlikely. A win away against Donegal this weekend may well be required.
12. Cavan (Div 1 – W1 D0 L3)
Division One is tough, especially for a newly promoted side. Cavan have discovered that even when they play well, that alone is no guarantee of victory due to the high calibre of opposition. Cavan put in impressive performances against Galway and Kerry and but suffered narrow defeats in both. Indeed, against Mayo in Castlebar, Cavan were the better team for much of the first half. Former Mullinalaghta manager Michael Graham appears to have brought an attacking fluidity to their game and a comprehensive victory over Roscommon was fully merited last weekend. They have fellow relegation rivals Tyrone and Monaghan to play in their next two games so their fate is in their own hands. Staying up is likely to prove a bridge too far but they are well primed to give Monaghan a real test in the Ulster quarter-final in May.
13. Fermanagh (Div 2 – W2 D2 L0)
Open. Expansive. Free-flowing. Not words you would use to describe the football of Rory Gallagher’s charges. However, you have to sometimes cut your cloth according to your measure. Fermanagh are the surprise packages of Division Two and are one of only four teams to remain unbeaten so far. Victories over Kildare and neighbours Donegal were big scalps for a team punching above their weight and hence promotion to the top division is now a distinct possibility. A home tie in Brewster Park against Clare this Sunday is a fantastic opportunity to further stake their claim.
14. Clare (Div 2 – W1 D1 L2)
For a predominantly hurling county, Clare’s improvement in recent years has been remarkable. Colm Collins has done a terrific job and if they can retain their status in a topsy-turvy division, they will be happy with their early season work. A heavy defeat inflicted on Munster rivals Cork should have given them great confidence. Due to meet Kerry in a Munster semi-final, they will likely have to journey the familiar qualifier route but they have the footballing ability to test any team on their day. Their final day league fixture against Tipperary looks set to be a relegation decider for both sides.
15. Tipperary (Div 2 – W1 D1 L2)
Tipperary are quite similar to Clare in terms of the results obtained to date with both teams having achieved one win, one draw and two defeats to date. Both teams also have to compete with the primacy of the small ball in their county. Truth be told, there is not much to choose between the three Munster counties in Division Two with all of them quite a distance away from challenging Kerry in Munster. Liam Kearns has done a phenomenal job with the Premier County with the high point being an All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Galway in 2016, before losing the semi-final to Mayo. They are unlikely to reach these heights again. Kearns’ squad has been decimated by injuries and departures, and they are very much in a Division Two survival dogfight with their fellow Munster rivals.
16. Cork (Div 2 – W0 D1 L3)
Cork football is in dire straits and relegation to Division Three looks likely. It is quite a fall from grace from a team that won the All-Ireland as recently as 2010 and defeated Mayo in a National League final in 2012. Their last Munster success was also in 2012, with Kerry this year aiming to win their seventh Munster title in a row. In this league campaign Cork’s only positive return to date has been a draw against Fermanagh on the opening weekend. Even this was achieved by scoring a paltry 1-05. Ronan McCarthy has a difficult job on his hands to retain Division Two status and a win against Tipperary this weekend is paramount. However, right now they very much look like rebels without a cause!
17. Down (Div. 3 – W3 D0 L1)
Look to be on the way up under former Galway coach Paddy Tally having bounced back from an opening round defeat to Laois with three consecutive wins. There is certainly a rebuilding job to be done in the Mourne County and Gaelic football could do with the resurgence of Down. With remaining games to come against Carlow and Offaly, anything less than promotion would be viewed as a disappointment.
18. Westmeath (Div 3 – W2 D1 L1)
Westmeath have already claimed rare silverware this season with O’Byrne cup victory over the Dubs in Parnell Park in January. Granted, this was a third choice Dublin side but any day you slay the Leinster behemoths in a final should be regarded as a good day. Jack Cooney is an up and coming manager and worked under Rory Gallagher with Donegal. The Lake County play whipping boys Sligo this weekend and are in a good position to obtain promotion. Their final day fixture against neighbours Longford will prove pivotal.
19. Laois (Div 3 – W2 D0 L2)
Inconsistent results so far with two defeats and two victories to date. Like a lot of these Division Three Leinster teams, there is little or nothing to choose between them. Had an impressive opening day win over Down in Newry before succumbing to Louth at home the following week. Unlikely to challenge for promotion and one victory will be required to stave off any relegation fears.
20. Louth (Div 3 – W3 D0 L1)
Have made a strong start to the first half of their campaign and last time out inflicted a 15-point hammering on Sligo, securing their status as surprise table toppers on points difference ahead of Down. With three wins out of four, they have likely already ensured Division Three status for another year. If they can secure a win against Carlow this weekend, then a Division Three final is within their grasp.
21. Longford (Div 3 – W2 D1 L1)
Longford football is on quite the high at the moment with Mullinalaghta’s Leinster club success being rightly heralded. The county footballers have continued this momentum and Padraic Davis will welcome back the Mullinalaghta contingent for the remainder of the campaign. They have winnable fixtures remaining and, as I mentioned above, that final day fixture against Westmeath could decide a promotion place.
22. Derry (Div 4 – W4 D0 L0)
It is a sad state of Derry football that they are in Division Four at all. One might find it hard to believe that they contested a Division One League final against Dublin in just 2014. Division Four is not the place to be playing your football when you have a preliminary round Ulster championship date with Tyrone in May. They have gone about their League business quietly if not overly impressively and look certainties to be back playing Division Three football in 2020.
23. Carlow (Div 3 – W1 D1 L2)
2018 represented a stunning year for Carlow football. Promotion from Division Four was followed by the usurping of Kildare in the Leinster championship. Turlough O’Brien clearly has Carlow going in the right direction and if they can retain their Division Three status, it would be a fine achievement. Currently sitting on 3 points, they still have work to do to meet this objective.
24. Leitrim (Div 4 – W4 D0 L0)
One of the success stories of the League so far with four wins out of four and anything over than a Division Four final date with Derry would now be deeply disappointing. Their draw with Mayo (and subsequent penalty shootout defeat) in the FBD League augured well for the year to come and Terry Hyland’s men have continued this upward trend. A Connacht quarter-final date with Roscommon awaits in the summer and could prove a closer battle than in previous years.
25. Offaly (Div 3 – W1 D1 L2)
Former Mayo supremo John Maughan took on the unenviable job of Offaly football manager for 2019. He immediately realised the scale of the task and hit out at the ethos of the footballers in the county when several players, for various reasons, chose not to play inter-county football. Perhaps, this shows that some form of tiered championship system is required so that players have a realistic and obtainable goal to aim for. A prospective 25 to 30 point defeat to Dublin is hard to sign up for! Offaly got a vital win against relegation rivals Carlow last time out and will need to find another victory to avoid relegation. Maughan seems to be doing the best with the tools he has to work with.
26. Sligo (Div 3 – W0 D0 L4)
They won’t like me in Sligo for saying this but the Yeats County have been appalling in their games so far, especially in conceding a whopping 5-16 to Louth last Sunday. They are the only side yet to register a point and a narrow defeat to Down is the high point of their campaign so far. Paul Taylor has it all to do to retain his side’s Division Three status. A win, or a draw at worst, against Westmeath at home this Sunday is imperative.
27. Limerick (Div 4 – W2 D0 L2)
Only managed one victory (against Waterford) in all of 2018 so already have doubled their victories this year. The Treaty men face Derry this weekend and therefore are unlikely to launch a promotion push.
28. Wicklow (Div 4 – W2 D0 L2)
Like Limerick, Wicklow only managed one victory (against Offaly) in all of 2018 so have also doubled their win tally this year. They have been competitive in all games but are unlikely to climb out of the bottom division this year.
29. Antrim (Div 4 – W1 D0 L3)
Truth be told, there is little to choose between any of the bottom four teams on this rankings. With no threat of relegation in the lowest division, for these counties it is performances that are important now. After three defeats, a win against London in Round 4 has put some points on the table. Have winnable fixtures with Waterford, Wicklow and Limerick remaining to be played.
30. London (Div 4 – W1 D0 L3)
London had a good victory over Wexford in Round 3 and will target another victory over fellow strugglers Waterford in Round 6.
31. Waterford (Div 4 – W1 D0 L3)
Beat Wexford in last year’s qualifiers and repeated the trick last weekend by bizarrely scoring more goals than points in their 5-04 to 0-12 victory. The Deise men will be hopeful of making it two wins in a row and triumphing over Antrim this Sunday.
32. Wexford (Div 4 – W1 D0 L3)
Wexford have the ignominious honour of being bottom of the pile in my rankings but unfortunately someone has to be. It is quite a fall from grace for a team that that in the not too distant past contested Leinster finals as well as an All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone (2008). As they say, the only way is up and they may have climbed the ladder when I produce my end of League rankings.