National Football League: Ulster teams fight for places in Division One
Ulster's representation in Division One of the Allianz Football League next year looks likely to be along similar lines to this season in numerical terms — but there could be a significant changing of the guard.
Down, Armagh and Monaghan have carried the flag for the province in the elite arena this year, but there are grave fears that Armagh and Monaghan may find themselves making the drop to Division Two following the last round of matches next Sunday.
While Down are still in with a chance of booking a place in the league final against Dublin — they must beat Kerry in their last game to have any chance — Armagh and Monaghan face must-win matches against Cork and Mayo respectively if they are to survive in the top bracket.
And while the orchard county and their Farney neighbours prepare for a last-ditch stand to maintain their current status, Donegal and Tyrone are poised to replace them in the elite division should they slip up.
Unbeaten Donegal travel to Laois knowing that a point will be enough to secure their passage into Division One, while Tyrone will confront struggling Meath conscious that a win could copper-fasten their promotion bid.
Derry are still in the promotion frame, but their -10 points difference could harm their prospects of moving up when they face an Antrim side on Sunday who need at least a point if they are to avoid the trapdoor to Division Three.
While Donegal and Tyrone — and to a lesser extent Derry — have grounds for optimism, Armagh and Monaghan are fighting for survival in Division One.
Armagh, who failed miserably against Galway at home at the weekend despite a nine-point contribution from Steven McDonnell, face a must-win trip to reigning National League and All Ireland champions Cork.
“This will be a match of championship intensity, there’s no doubt about that. We definitely need to get something out of this one if we are to survive,” said Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke.
Armagh’s task will not be rendered any easier by the fact that Cork, who surprisingly lost to Mayo on Sunday, now require a victory if they are to book their place in the league final.