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Ulster sides ready for the ups and downs as league reaches climax


By Declan Bogue

A number of Ulster sides are preparing to find out what level of football they will be playing in the 2019 leagues, and by 5pm tomorrow all will become clear.

In Division One, Donegal face the threat of relegation for the first time since they were promoted in 2014, but have it in their hands to send down Sunday's opponents Mayo.

It's a curious one, in that Donegal have not been beaten in league or Championship football on their home turf of Ballybofey since 2010. And yet, since they beat Mayo in the 2012 All-Ireland final, the westerners have had their number ever since.

Should Donegal win, it would leave them level with Mayo on four points, but Stephen Rochford's men would be relegated due to the head-to-head rule.

Elsewhere, Monaghan have the chance of putting one over on Dublin when they meet in Croke Park.

The All-Ireland champions are already into the league final against Galway, both teams drawing with each other last weekend to produce identical records. However, even if Jim Gavin decides to roll the dice with team selection, it is unlikely the reserves will let up.

Tyrone have Kerry in Omagh for the final round, with nothing at stake but a few markers to lie down.

In Division Two, Down begin their attempt to climb out of the relegation mire but their task is a fairly simple one as they start with Meath in Navan on Sunday.

If they beat the Royals, then they stand a good chance of surviving. However, should Meath beat them, then there is a need to re-fix last weekend's cancelled tie against high-flying Tipperary. Two losses and Down will be heading for Division Three a year after they avoided it with the final play of the league campaign.

It's a winner-takes-all for Cavan at the other end of that table. If they beat Tipperary, then they will go back up to the top flight after spending one season away.

We already know Armagh are in the second tier, getting there courtesy of a draw against Fermanagh last weekend. For their final game before the league final, they travel to Wexford Park to take on Paul McLoughlin's men, who are staring at the prospect of going through an entire league campaign with far more red cards - five at the last count - than points.

Fermanagh go in search of sealing promotion at Pearse Park in Longford. This being the last game for Rory Gallagher's side, it is a winner-takes-all affair. A draw would do no good as Longford would then take their place in Division Two due to their superior scoring difference.

Indiscipline has cost Fermanagh, with Cian McManus' red card against Westmeath contributing to their collapse in an injury-time loss, and two red cards for Aidan Breen and Daniel Teague leaving them short-handed to dig in for the Armagh draw.

There is an outside chance Derry could still go down, but a point against Sligo would be enough to rescue them.

It has been a chastening season to be a Derry fan, but manager Damian McErlain has made no bones about the fact he is on a long-term project.

The return of Brendan Rogers - though he tweaked a hamstring the last day out - along with Karl McKaigue and Padraig Cassidy has gone a long way to lifting the gloom and they will only improve.

In Division Four, Antrim are praying for last week's conquerors Carlow to do them a favour. They need the Barrowsiders to defeat Laois, and then beat Laois themselves in the final game.

Before that, they have a long trip to the Gaelic Grounds to face Limerick, and anything less than a win means another year in the basement for the Saffrons.

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