National Football League: Ulster aces must hold their nerve in hunt for promotion
The prospect of Ulster’s representation in Division One of the Allianz Football League becoming even healthier has been enhanced now that Derry, Donegal and Tyrone are setting their sets on promotion.
With Derry due to host Donegal at Celtic Park on Saturday night, a definite outcome to this encounter and a victory by the Red Hands over high-riding Laois on the same night in Portlaoise could hoist them even more firmly into the promotion frame.
Mickey Harte’s side appear to have put the depressing start they made to their campaign when they lost to both Derry and Donegal behind them and have made up some lost ground via their wins over Antrim and Sligo.
But even the capture of four points from these games has not convinced Harte that his side could prove genuine promotion contenders.
“We have played some wonderful passages of football in our games but we have also played some awful spells of football,” said Harte.
“We need to get more consistency into our play and to sustain our efforts. The pressure is mounting on all sides and obviously there are some very important matches down for decision next weekend.”
While there is optimism that two Ulster sides could yet make the leap into the top bracket, this is offset by fears that Armagh or Monaghan or indeed both could find themselves taking the plunge into Division Two even though Galway and Mayo are both beset by relegation worries.
Indeed, Armagh and Monaghan face absolutely vital matches next weekend with the Farney county travelling to face Down at Newry on Saturday night and Paddy O’Rourke’s side hosting Kerry at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.
Monaghan have just one win from four games to date while the Orchard County have a modest 50 per cent record, a statistic they share with the Kingdom who have also lost twice.
Down have taken five points from a possible eight and are the highest-ranked Ulster side in the league but boss James McCartan says they are not out of the woods yet in terms of avoiding the drop.
“There are only three points between us and Monaghan and this makes next Saturday’s game very important,” he said.