Saturday 9 March
DERRY v ARMAGH, Celtic Park, 7pm
An intriguing Ulster derby awaits by the banks of the Foyle, with the home side bidding for a third consecutive win in this year’s league. Armagh edged past Longford last weekend to collect their first two points and will be looking to kick on.
Manager Brian McIver seems to have instilled a new belief into Derry – a side that barely survived in the second tier last year – and followed that up with dismal displays in the Championship. Their 0-19 to 0-10 success over Wexford was highlighted by the fact they had scorers in every line of the field. There is an urgency about their play, with players wanting to drive forward at every opportunity.
County teams are often criticised for their lack of goal scoring, but Armagh have raised six green flags in their last two games, with such scores crucial in their stirring comeback against Wexford a fortnight ago that gave them a share of the spoils.
James Morgan, Declan McKenna and Gavin McParland all return to the starting XV for the Orchard county. Morgan and McKenna are named in the full-back line ahead of Gary McCooey and Stephen Finnegan.
McParland returns from injury and is named at No 15, with Stefan Campbell making way.
Derry have responded well since their opening-day defeat to Galway and have their sights set in a promotion push. That impetus should continue on Sunday.
SUNDAY 10 MARCH
LONGFORD v GALWAY, Pearse Park, 2pm
Glen Ryan’s Longford are still looking for their first points in the division, though the narrow nature of their defeats, while frustrating, reinforces a competitiveness that in the weeks ahead must be translated into points.
The mood in the county has been lifted by the U-21 side taking the scalp of Dublin in the Leinster championship and so the senior outfit will have the extra motivation to round off the week on a high.
Galway have been up and down so far this spring. Last weekend they let a six-point lead at half-time slip against Westmeath. Despite playing with the wind in the second period, they were lucky to force a draw at the end, thanks to sub Muchael Martin’s accuracy from frees.
Martin came on as a sub in Tuam, but is in from the start on Sunday, replacing Mark Hehir at No 15. The other change sees Gareth Bradshaw, also introduced the last day, take over from Josh Moore in the half-back line.
Longford 2-09 against Armagh last Saturday came from Francis McGee and Sean McGee –so others are will have to step up to the mark.
Their rise up the divisions has been characterised by neat, stylish football and they will face a side on Sunday whose football philosophy is the same. An entertaining clash is in prospect, with the home side’s need for points tipping the balance against an outfit who struggled in their previous away clash.
LOUTH v WEXFORD, Drogheda, 2.30pm
Louth could so easily be leading the way in Division 2 if not for a narrow defeat to Westmeath on the opening weekend and a draw against Laois last weekend – in a match where they were in control entering the last 15 minutes.
Still the Wee County are on three points, and face the Model county in Drogheda – the venue where they comfortably saw off Galway a fortnight ago.
Wexford were found wanting against Derry last weekend, with both Ben Brosnan and Lee Chin subbed in the second half as they went down to a nine-point defeat.
Amongst their supporters it seems the result was a fair indication of the side’s effort despite two goal chances in the second half and the valiant efforts of Shane Roche.
For the trip to Drogheda, David Murphy comes in for Lee Chin, who is lining out for the hurlers this weekend.
Anthony Masterson resumes his goalkeeping berth.
Shane Lennon is a doubt for Louth as he carries a hip injury into this weekend’s encounter, with doubts also surrounding Ronan Carroll and Padraig Rath.
Wexford footballers have shown well in their Championship encounters in Croke Park in the last two seasons and will feel that Division 2 is the level they should be at.
Louth will make it difficult for them this weekend, but the desire to shake the ineptitude after the defeat to Derry could see a positive reward.
WESTMEATH v LAOIS, Cusack Park, 2.30pm
Pat Flanagan’s Westmeath sit on top of Division 2 and will be boosted by the determination they showed last weekend when forcing a draw against Galway, having to come from behind, whilst playing against the wind in the second half.
Laois also had to show powers of recovery the last day as they pegged Louth back in the last quarter to salvage a draw in Portlaoise.
Westmeath boss Pat Flanagan has recalled David Duffy and John Gaffey to the starting XV, with Gaffey replacing clubmate Doron Harte at centre-half-back, while Duffy comes in a midfield.
Denis Corroon moves to No 13 in place of Ronan Foley. Dessie Dolan is not named in the Lake County line-up.
Justin McNulty’s Laois would have been favoured to make a return to Division 1 following their decent finish to last year’s championship.
Ross Munnelly, Billy Sheehan, Colm Begley are forwards who can get scores and they and their colleagues would have a confidence that they should have enough to see off Westmeath.
If the confidence is well-founded then the O’Moore county should be well positioned to rejoin the top tier for next season.