By Rory Houston
This weekend's Division 2 fixtures will see Armagh and Longford looking for their first points of the season, while Laois travel to Louth, Derry face Wexford and Galway play Westmeath.
Saturday 2 March
Armagh v Longford, Athletic Grounds, 7pm
Armagh and Longford meet in a clash between the sides at the bottom of the Allianz Football League Division 2 with both counties hoping to earn a first win of the campaign.
It took a heroic effort from Armagh to rescue a point against Wexford and that was a positive to take from a really poor start against the Model County.
Gavin McParland’s hat-trick led the revival but he misses this game due to injury along with Declan Carville, Anto Duffy and Paul McKeown.
The major plus for Armagh is the return of Jamie Clarke and Aaron Kernan after duty with Crossmaglen and Kernan in particular could hope to shore up the defensive side of things for the Ulster side.
The league is primarily about learning for a new manager and for Paul Grimley he will hope to see his side take the finish from the Wexford game, where they clawed back that nine-point deficit, into this match.
If this year’s league is to provide a leap to the top tier, it must start this weekend.
The loser will be in a relegation mire and it could be a big ask for Longford if it becomes losses already.
A home defeat to Westmeath, with just 0-01 from the team without Sean McCormack’s 1-07, does little to raise confidence in the camp and defeat number three could be on the cards.
Laois v Louth, Portlaoise, 7pm
At this junction in the league both Laois and Louth will hope to kick on with a win already under the belts and this is a head-to-head between two former Armagh players looking to lead Leinster sides to unlikely glory.
Justin McNulty and Aidan O’Rourke lock horns in Portlaoise and it should be another insight into the progress O’Rourke in making with Louth.
Laois were excellent in their first match of the season, racking up 0-20 against Armagh and earning plaudits for the manner in which they raced to victory.
They were deservedly beaten by Derry, albeit by just three points in Celtic Park, but the signs are good. There is no doubt Laois can play, whether McNulty can bring a bit of steel into the midfield and throughout the side in difficult places to go like Derry, is another matter.
It’s a re-build for Louth and also a time for O’Rourke’s to learn what his best team will be for the summer. He made six changes for the win over Galway but this week there is just one alteration as Brian Donnelly comes into the side.
It’s no surprise to see a consolidation in the side after such an impressive showing in the second-half in that encounter.
There is still a familiar look to the Louth side this year and how O’Rourke implements his methods will be fascinating to view over the course of the league.
Wexford v Derry, Wexford Park, 2pm
Wexford will hope to make up for what was a lost point against Armagh when they face Derry this weekend.
They will wonder how they didn’t win that match with a three-goal haul in the first half but it’s been a good start in terms of points on the board early on.
Ben Brosnan showed some good form against Armagh with 0-05 and his performances could be pivotal to how the Model men perform this Championship.
The table has a surprising look to it and if Wexford can take two points against Derry they will begin to harbour serious ambitions to reach the top tier.
Derry have hit two big scores in their first delves into the league season, beaten by a goal in Galway and seeing off Laois last time out.
Brian McIver has a big job on his hands. Football had become stale in Derry, and McIver’s task is to breathe new life and new blood into it.
With Conleith Gilligan retired and Paddy Bradley’s injury, there are opportunities for new players and the response has been good so far.
It might take a while to find some consistency and there will be some ups and downs but they appear sharp and determined to make an impression this year.
McIver’s men may make a stab at promotion if they take a confidence-booster like a win in Wexford.
Galway v Westmeath, Salthill, 2pm
Alan Mulholand will look at more options in his panel after a poor showing against Louth last week
John O’Brien, Anthony Griffin, John Egan, Gary O’Donnell and Mark Hehir come in for the Tribesmen.
A poor return of 0-03 in the second period against Louth last week reminded Mulholland of the job on his hands to steer Galway back in the right direction.
The Wee County had it too easy in the second period at the Gaelic Grounds and Mulholland is hoping for a reaction with a changed side.
Westmeath sit proudly at the top of Division 2 with two hard-fought wins. They were expected to struggle but are now targeting securing their place in next year’s division on this first weekend of March.
They will be without key duo Dessie Dolan and Paul Sharry due to injury and that could prove the difference.