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There's no reason to panic over second tier, insists Tally

Positive stance: Paddy Tally will take things as they come in relation to Tier Two
Positive stance: Paddy Tally will take things as they come in relation to Tier Two
In charge: new Errigal Ciaran boss Johnny McBride in Derry days
John Campbell

By John Campbell

With the possibility of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship undergoing a change in format, the proposed second tier of the competition is currently coming under closer scrutiny and nowhere is this more prevalent than in Ulster.

As things stand, no fewer than five counties from the province have reason to be fearful as the start of the Allianz League approaches next month given that teams which finish in Divisions Three and Four will find themselves in the 'lesser' All-Ireland series.

Armagh, Cavan and Fermanagh will hope to retain their Division Two status in the league, while Derry and Down will be striving to escape the clutches of Division Three.

Yet while the league overall is expected to be the most competitive for many years, managers are already working overtime to maintain a sense of perspective within their squads and to keep pessimism at bay.

Down boss Paddy Tally has already blooded 19 players in the league and 13 at Championship level during his time in charge and while 25 years have elapsed since the county last won the Ulster title, the Galbally native is taking a grounded approach to his team's league campaign.

"While the second tier of the All-Ireland Championship is there, I believe that a lot is being made of it," insisted Tally. "I suppose that's understandable given the publicity it has been given to date and the fact that every team wants to be playing in the top-tier Championship.

"That's the dream of every player of course but it is what it is. I honestly think that the negative feelings surrounding Tier Two are not just as pronounced as many might believe.

"If you look at the evidence to date, adverse feelings are not as strong as people assume them to be. Obviously the Tier One Championship this year is going to be highly competitive and there will obviously be an even stronger focus on the Dubs under their new manager, but I also believe that the Tier Two series will be fiercely contested.

"I don't think that either tier will be easily won at the end of the day. What is absolutely certain is that every team in Division Two and Division Three will be doing their utmost when the league starts to get points into the bag so that they can make sure that next May they will be in the pot for the All-Ireland Championship proper."

Down were unfortunate to miss out on promotion to Division Two this year and now with teams like Cork, Tipperary and Longford bracketed with them in Division Three, gaining promotion will be anything but straightforward.

New Derry manager Rory Gallagher, meanwhile, has already assembled a panel that incorporates youth and experience and is remaining guarded in relation to the second tier of the All-Ireland series.

Tally, though, believes that teams will be keen to put their best foot forward.

"There will be a lot of teams under pressure to hit the ground running in the league and the challenge for us will be to set our own pace. It has often been said in the past that the league can prove a barometer in relation to the Championship but going into 2020 it will become even more than that," added Tally.

The fact that Kilcoo have won the Ulster Club Championship and that he still has the nucleus of this year's squad available to him encourages Tally as he fine-tunes his preparations for what he has described as "a critical season".

Down have been paired with Antrim and Fermanagh in Section B of the Dr McKenna Cup while Monaghan, Donegal and Derry will comprise Section A with Armagh, Tyrone and Cavan in Section C.

The semi-finals will see the winners of Section B play the winners of Section C while the winners of Section A will face the best runners-up in the competition.

The final is scheduled for Saturday, January 18.

Meanwhile, former Derry player Johnny McBride is to be the new manager of Errigal Ciaran in succession to Pascal Canavan, who has stepped down after four years at the helm.

McBride takes over at a time when Errigal Ciaran are licking their wounds following a devastating Tyrone Senior Football Championship final defeat to Trillick.

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