Ulster teams battle it out for survival
GAA officials are keeping their fingers crossed that Easter Sunday counter-attractions will not dilute interest in the concluding round of matches in the Allianz Football League.
Survival rather than trophy success is the name of the game for several Ulster sides and while this is expected to add a marked edge to the matches, there are fears that games could be cold-shouldered by followers.
Such fears are not without foundation. There were less than 1,000 people at Celtic Park last Sunday to see Derry held to a draw by Louth — the crowd was described as “pathetic” by one Oak Leaf county official — while Monaghan and Galway played against the backdrop of an eerie silence at Pearse Park, Longford, where the crowd numbered just 575.
Monaghan had been forced to concede home advantage as punishment for their involvement in the fracas which occurred just prior to half-time in their recent game against Kildare.
Now it is a backs-to-the-wall battle for Monaghan, Derry, Armagh and Donegal to retain their current divisional status.
Even Down are not totally out of the woods yet. If Dublin overcome Mayo in their re-scheduled match tomorrow night — the original meeting was abandoned due to fog — and Down beat Laois on April 8, then the Mournemen go straight through to the semi-finals.
Yet irrespective of who wins the Mayo v Dublin game, if Laois overcome Down, James McCartan’s side could find themselves facing the relegation trapdoor.
Armagh face a daunting mission on Sunday week in Donegal who are one point worse off.
Donegal will be without their talisman Michael Murphy who underwent surgery earlier this week.
Murphy has been ruled out for six to eight weeks after damaging his lateral knee ligaments.
Orchard County boss Paddy O’Rourke is particularly delighted to have skipper Ciaran McKeever at the heart of his defence.
“He’s a superb player and a great leader,” says O’Rourke.
“You can’t do without the likes of him if you want to be winning these sort of games. He gave us a great lift when he was cleared to start against Down.
“We felt he had been wronged when he got that two-match ban but good sense prevailed and it’s great that he is back.”