When the new-look Allianz Football League was being formulated, one of the priorities was to ensure that teams would be spared lengthy journeys with overnight stays because of the ongoing Covid-19 threat. Hence, then, the creation of the four North and South divisions as a potential safeguard in ensuring that players’ health and welfare were protected.
There is surely more than a hint of irony, then, to the fact that this weekend, two Ulster counties will face their longest trips of the year to date as the league nears a conclusion.
While Tyrone embark on a challenging haul to Killarney today where they will face Kerry in a Division One semi-final tomorrow, Antrim will also log up considerable miles when they head off to face Waterford in Dungarvan on Sunday in a Division Four semi-final.
But with the Championship season looming and managers for the most part preoccupied with injury worries, league progress could yet come at a cost.
Nor does the irony end with the teams’ respective destinations. Each is managed by former Tyrone playing duos with Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher keen to see the league title come to the Red Hands while Enda McGinley and Stephen O’Neill are intent on applying the finishing touches to what is an Antrim renaissance.
Yet with the Division Two and Division Four finals already ruled out because teams are in Championship action the weekend after the dates which had been earmarked for finals (June 19-20), there is the possibility that the Division One and Division Three finals might now not take place. This means that should Antrim or Tyrone win this weekend, this could bring the curtain down on their respective League campaigns.
McGinley said: “I think the important thing is that we get promotion. We just want to take the big step up at this stage.”
Tyrone, meanwhile, face into a difficult test against a Kerry side which has remained unbeaten in the league to date.
Manager Peter Keane not only sees tomorrow’s game as a stepping stone towards another league success but as an important element in his team’s Championship build-up.
His thoughts in this connection are shared by Logan and Dooher, who are particularly keen to see their Tyrone side finish the league on a high having beaten Armagh, drawn with Monaghan and lost to Donegal.
Logan certainly makes no bones about just where he feels the side is right now.
“While I thought we showed great character in getting a draw in our last game against Monaghan, I feel we still have a little more joining up to do,” he conceded,
“We created good scoring chances and maybe missed others. We are going in against Kerry and this will be a big test for us because we know that, like ourselves, they will have one eye on the Championship campaign and will be keen to maintain their progress.”