Four Ulster counties find themselves engaged in a desperate quest for credibility in the Allianz Football League tomorrow while in contrast two other teams retain their sights sharply on promotion.
For Derry and Donegal, promotion to the top flight is the aim, while defeat for Armagh, Antrim, Monaghan or Fermanagh could have serious repercussions — indeed, these counties find themselves in a backs-to-the-wall situation.
Armagh, with Jamie Clarke back in their attack and Malachy Mackin now partnering Kieran Toner in midfield, are poised for a must-win clash with Galway at the Athletic Grounds while Antrim travel to Ballyshannon where anything other than a win against Donegal will almost certainly consign Liam Bradley’s side to Division Three.
And Fermanagh, whose well-documented travails have been making grim reading this week, need to come out on top at home to Clare if manager John O’Neill is to justify the backing he has just received from the Management Committee.
Armagh’s joust with pointless Galway precedes next weekend’s trip to high-flying Cork where Paddy O’Rourke’s side can expect to enjoy little comfort from the All-Ireland champions hence rendering it essential that they come out on top tomorrow.
Skipper Stevie McDonnell remains optimistic that the Orchard County can get the brace of points that will assure their tenure in Division One for next year.
“We were not quite able to maintain our momentum against Kerry the last day but if we get off to a good start I feel we can win,” says McDonnell.
But while Armagh can benefit from home advantage, Antrim will be in alien territory against a Donegal side that is sitting proudly at the top of Division Two.
The Saffrons will be without Andrew McClean, Kevin Niblock, Michael McCann, CJ McGourty and Tómas McCann and their chances of hauling themselves away from the basement of the table must be considered very slim indeed.
Monaghan too face a massive test against a much-changed Kerry side in Inniskeen and given that they could be without Paul Finlay, Vinny Corey and Darren Hughes their prospects are now even bleaker.
Fermanagh have much ground to make up in Division Four but have only two games to play, the first of these coming against Clare tomorrow.
Manager O’Neill has brought James McGrath back between the posts and has moved Hugh Brady to midfield where he will partner Murt O’Brien while John O’Flanagan and Sean Quigley, who impressed as substitutes last weekend, are now rewarded with starting slots.
Fermanagh simply cannot afford to lose this one — their credibility has already been seriously damaged as it is.
In contrast to the pressure which has engulfed four Ulster counties, Donegal and Derry are pursuing a lofty goal — promotion to the top bracket.
Derry are at home tomorrow to a Meath side that has under-performed since Seamus McEnaney took over as manager and John Brennan’s side may hold too many aces for their Celtic Park visitors.
Gerard O’Kane, Paddy Bradley, Kevin McCloy and Enda Muldoon are expected to have key roles for an Oak Leaf side that has lost two games to date. And Donegal manager Jim McGuinness knows that a win over Antrim will stamp his team’s passport into Division One.
Michael Murphy, Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy, Karl Lacey, Kevin Cassidy, Rory Kavanagh and Colm McFadden are expected to trigger what will be an extension of Donegal’s unbeaten record to date.
Armagh (v Galway): P McEvoy; A Mallon, B Donaghy, F Moriarty; K Dyas, C McKeever, P Duffy; K Toner, M Mackin; C Vernon, C Watters, G Swift; J Clarke, S McDonnell, J Murtagh.
Fermanagh (v Clare): J McGrath; J Woods, B Owens, M Jones; C Quigley, B Mulrone, K Cosgrove; H Brady, M O’Brien; T O’Flanagan, N Cassidy, R Jones; P Ward, J O’Flanagan, Sean Quigley.
Kerry (v Monaghan): T Mac an t’Saoir; P Reidy, M O Sé, A O Connell; A O’Mahoney, K Young, D Bohan; D Moran, A Maher; Declan O’Sullivan, Darran O’Sullivan, P Galvin; K O’Leary, K Donaghy, D Geaney.