Donegal and Derry take a big step down
Fears which had billowed in Ulster over the course of recent weeks morphed into sad reality when the province yesterday made an ignominious contribution to the roll-call of sides that will now compete in lower regions of the Allianz Football League next year.
Donegal's tenure in Division One was ended at the hands of Mayo while Derry plummeted into Division Four following a surprising setback against Sligo.
Down's prospects of remaining in Division Two remain on a knife-edge as confirmation of their re-scheduled game against Tipperary is awaited.
Down have four points while Meath are just above them on five and they too have an outstanding fixture to fulfil against already relegated Louth so the position at the bottom of Division Two remains intriguing.
The sad demotion of two counties both boasting a proud history and who have been no strangers to success in the past experience almost camouflaged the worthy achievements of Cavan who have made a prompt return to Division One under Mattie McGleenan's shrewd stewardship and the surge of Armagh and Fermanagh into Division Two.
It was a last-gasp Seamus Quigley point against Longford to seal a 1-10 to 1-9 win that saw Fermanagh, in their first season under Rory Gallagher, join already-promoted Armagh in the third tier, the orchard county's 0-12 to 1-8 loss to Wexford having been rendered inconsequential.
It was another injury-time score that did the trick for Cavan against Tipperary with Conor Madden hitting the target in the 75th minute to ensure that the Breffni side will now rub shoulders with the elite.
Donegal's draw with Mayo (0-13 each) would have been meritorious in another context but Kevin McLoughlin's late point was the straw that broke the home team's back at Ballybofey and allowed Mayo, with whom former Armagh All-Ireland winner Tony McEntee is still a selector, to extend their 20-year tenure in the top flight.
And Derry and Down? In conceding four goals to Meath in a 4-14 to 1-14 drubbing, the Mournemen by and large signed their own death warrant in this game. Derry also erred on the side of generosity when Liam Gaughan, Kevin McDonnell and Paul O'Connor rifled in Sligo's goals in their 3-11 to 2-12 win with Conor McAtamney and Shane McGuigan hitting the net for Damian McErlain's beleaguered outfit.
While Down are badly in need of a kiss of life as they await their meeting with Tipperary, Derry have plumbed new depths by landing in Division Four.
Antrim's failure to make it out of Division Four following the surprise win by Laois over Carlow yesterday is clearly a significant setback to manager Lenny Harbinson's plans.
Matthew Fitzpatrick poached his trademark goal as Antrim won by 1-13 to 0-12 but the manner in which Laois caught already-promoted Carlow off their guard effectively condemned Harbinson's men to another year in the basement of the league.