Derry ready to fight for survival
No fewer than five Ulster counties now find themselves bidding to stave off the threat of relegation as the last two scheduled rounds of the National Football League loom.
With Tyrone and Derry marooned at the bottom of Division One and Monaghan just above them, there is the distinct prospect that the province could have the dubious honour of providing the two teams that will make the drop into Division Two.
And with Fermanagh and Cavan currently struggling to survive in Division Three, Ulster could yet find itself with unwanted representation in Division Four.
Derry, who have won the National League on four occasions within the past 15 years (1995, 1996, 2000 and 2008), have a massive home game against Cork on Saturday next and another huge test away to Galway on April 11 as they strive to retain their Division One status.
Tyrone, too, have a difficult double assignment to master if they are to stay up but both their remaining games will be at Healy Park, Omagh.
Mickey Harte’s side will meet All Ireland champions Kerry on Saturday night and will then host Dublin on April 11.
Monaghan, who have four points, two more than Derry and Tyrone, make the trip to high-flying Mayo on Sunday before they travel to Kerry on April 11.
Fermanagh, with just two points to date, are in grave danger of sliding into Division Four but can bolster their chances of survival if they can overcome Sligo on Sunday before they take on neighbours Cavan on April 11.
Cavan themselves may be on four points but they are by no means immune from the relegation dog-fight.
Tommy Carr’s side face a tricky home tie against improved Offaly on Saturday night before what could prove to be a relegation shoot-out with their Erneside neighbours.
Not so long ago Ulster boasted as many as five sides in Division
One but while Down and Armagh could conceivably yet take the step up into the elite bracket they might replace rather than join Ulster’s current representation.
Derry manager Damian Cassidy, disappointed that his side fell by 1-16 to 0-12 to Monaghan on Sunday — their fourth defeat on the trot — acknowledges that they have “a lot of things to work on”.
He adds: “If we do not get our problems sorted, it’s going to make things very difficult for us.”
Cassidy will be looking for a much better return from play from the Bradley brothers Eoin and Paddy in particular against Cork who are likely to be without imposing duo Pearse O’Neill and Nicholas Murphy again.
However, the Derry defence will face a severe test considering that Cork knocked up an impressive |2-13 in defeating Dublin at the weekend.
Tyrone boss Mickey Harte may decide to bring Sean Cavanagh in from the start against Kerry on Saturday night.
Cavanagh made a big difference when he was introduced as a half-time substitute against Galway on Sunday in a defeat in which Martin Penrose, enjoying his most lucrative spell in the Red Hands side, hit 0-8 with six of these scores coming from frees.