Down facing up to acid test
A changing of the Ulster guard could be imminent in Division One of the National Football League.
Tyrone, unbeaten in their three matches in Division Two to date, look odds-on to make the step up even with four rounds of scheduled fixtures still to go.
Mickey Harte’s side, whose latest victims were Louth on Sunday, are not only playing with considerable panache but the manager has rich selection options which bode well for his team’s progress.
But it may not be all one-way traffic in terms of divisional movement.
Down and Donegal have each secured just one victory from three outings in Division One and next weekend represents an acid test for both.
Down must journey to in-form Mayo who lowered Armagh’s colours in emphatic fashion at the weekend, while Jim McGuinness’s side face a daunting trip to Kerry who proved superior to the Mournemen on Sunday in Newry.
Down boss James McCartan saw Ambrose Rogers and Kevin McKernan get game time against the Kingdom and they will now be in frame for starting places against Mayo, while Liam Doyle, Aidan Carr, Gerard McCartan and Marcus Miskelly may merit similar consideration.
Manager McCartan was disappointed with his side’s result against Kerry but acknowledges that Division One is a “cruel place”.
He said: “For the first ten minutes or so, we felt we had Kerry on the back foot but we just didn't put any scores on the board. We went in a couple of points down at half-time when really we needed to be going in a couple of points up.
“I wouldn't be critical of too many performances of the Down players. I'd be happy with them. Division One is a cruel place and nobody's going to hand out points, and Kerry are a quality team.
“We knew this was the end of the table we were most likely going to be looking at. We just want to get two more points on the board and it'll probably take more than that to stay in the division too. It's going to be difficult, there's no doubt about it.”
Down and Donegal urgently require victories to sustain their hopes of remaining in Division One given that they both have still difficult tests on the horizon including a meeting with Dublin.
And Armagh, who made such a spectacular start to the league, are not without their own anxieties.
Even though they drew with Cork and beat Kerry in Tralee, their rather surprising collapse against Mayo at the Morgan Athletic Grounds now renders their trip to Croke Park to face the Dubs this weekend fraught with danger.
Manager Paddy O’Rourke, who has had to do without the services of some key players such as Aaron Kernan, Stevie McDonnell and Jamie Clarke since the onset of the league, now has additional worries.
Both Charlie Vernon and Brian Mallon, two of his more experienced foot soldiers, limped out of the action against Mayo and are rated doubtful for the trip to Headquarters.
O’Rourke may now have to turn to inexperienced players in the hope that they will help the team overturn Pat Gilroy’s side who enjoyed a comfortable win over Justin McNulty’s Laois at the weekend.
The form of Diarmuid Connolly and Eoghan O’Gara in particular in the metropolitan side’s attack will already have been noted by O’Rourke whose defence was much too porous in the opening quarter against Mayo – something that proved a significant contributory factor to their defeat.