Okay, let’s get the bad news out of the way first. We’re still not safe from the drop in this year’s League campaign, despite having accumulated in our first three matches more points than we managed in all seven games last year.
But here’s the good news: it’s only a very unlikely set of circumstances that would see us relegated and, with two rounds of matches remaining, our fate in terms of top tier survival rests very much in our own hands.
Here’s how things stand in Division One after five rounds of matches.
As you can see, despite those losses to Dublin and Galway we’re still third in the table, still in with a shout – albeit one that has faded fast – of reaching the Division One decider. Our elevated position also means there’s a buffer of no fewer of three counties separating us from the two relegation places.
At the bottom, one of Cavan or Monaghan – possibly both – will go down. They meet in Round 6 at Clones and the losers of that game will be relegated, regardless of how they either of them do in Round 7. A draw in that match would also mean neither of them could overhaul us at the finish.
Galway host Roscommon at Pearse Stadium the same afternoon. If the Tribesmen win that one then the Rossies can’t catch us either so a Galway win in Round 6, irrespective of what happens in St Tiernach’s Park, will keep us up with two matches still to play.
That’s because, don’t forget, that the Round 6 matches are all being played on Saturday 16th and not on the Sunday, which is St Patrick’s Day. Both the game in Clones and the one in Salthill throw in at 2pm that afternoon whereas our lads don’t get going down in Tralee until 7pm.
That’s the optimistic scenario from our point of view. But, of course, if we nick a result – any result, a draw would be grand – in Austin Stack Park then we’re already safe heading into Round 7. Even if we lose to Kerry – and, let’s face it, that’s extremely likely to happen, despite our good League record in matches played in the Kingdom – a win or a draw in our final match, at home to Monaghan, would keep us up.
The wrong result in that Monaghan fixture, though, could also be the one that sees us ending our long tenure in the top tier. That would happen if (a) Monaghan first beat Cavan and (b) Roscommon beat Galway and then draw with Kerry (or vice versa, i.e. draw with Galway and beat Kerry) or if they beat both of them and (c) we lose both to Kerry and Monaghan.
This scenario comes in two variants. One sees Roscommon beat both Galway and Kerry, in which case our defeat to Monaghan – following on from a loss to Kerry – relegates us, with Monaghan surviving courtesy of the head-to-head rule. The second, less likely, variant sees Roscommon winning one of their remaining two games and drawing the other, with the points difference (we’re currently +15 over Monaghan and +18 over Roscommon) swinging sufficiently away from us over the final two rounds to send us packing on that metric.
What happens to Tyrone and Galway over the final two rounds of matches also needs to be factored in from our point of view, as neither of them are safe yet. If Tyrone lose both to Dublin and Galway – not a wholly unrealistic story-line – then we’d finish above them and so survive, regardless of that other lurid picture I painted above. Conversely, if Galway lose to Roscommon and go on to lose to Tyrone as well and assuming someone else joins us on six points, we’d also be likely to survive, in light of our points difference lead (+12) we enjoy over the Tribesmen.
So, it’s far easier to identify scenarios in which we retain our Division One status for next year than it is to pinpoint the unlikely set of circumstances that would lead to our relegation. The bottom line, however, is that if we get anything from our final two matches then we’re not relying on anyone else to help us stay in the top tier. As the saying goes, the Good Lord helps those who help themselves.