by Rory Houston
Dublin welcome Tyrone to Croke Park in a top-of-the-table clash, while at the other end Kerry meet Down in the Allianz Football League Division 1 tomorrow.
KERRY v DOWN, Tralee 7pm
Kerry stare relegation in the face as they welcome Down to Tralee knowing victory is a must.
The Kingdom have been beaten in four consecutive matches, averaging less than eight points per game, and some woeful performances have led to questions over their summer prospects.
They face the side directly above them in the table, Down, who are also in the relegation mire.
Tomas Ó Sé will be absent through suspension after a red card last Sunday against Donegal.
Kieran Donaghy has been one of the few players to give them a presence in midfield and along with Marc Ó Sé, he is an injury doubt.
Donaghy has been moved to the edge of the square amongst other positions, which has helped at times, and his loss would be a massive blow.
The Kingdom have suffered without some key players due to club commitments and injury in the league and it has contributed to their current standing.
Forwards James O’Donoghue, Darran O’Sullivan and Michael Geaney managed a meagre 0-01 against Donegal and Eamonn Fitzmaurice knows this is a big test early in his inter-county managerial career.
He told RTÉ after the defeat to Donegal: “It’s a bit bleak at the moment but we’re not going to give up. We’re going keep at it. We’re going to try to get our house in order.
“It’s a huge game for us (against Down) and we just have to get points on the board.”
Down showed a tremendous never-say-die attitude last weekend against Mayo.
They suffered a heart-breaking defeat to Cork in their previous game but outfought and battled past the Connacht champions with an excellent finish to register their first points of the league.
Donal O’Hare kicked nine points and they certainly come into this relegation with more confidence than the Kingdom.
James McCartan’s side need to capitalise on the predicament faced by a weakened Kerry side but it may prove too hard a challenge.
DUBLIN v TYRONE, Croke Park 7pm
The sides at the top of the Allianz Football League Division 1 face off in Croke Park with Jim Gavin’s Dublin aiming to seal a place in the semi-final.
The Dubs were terrific against a one-dimensional Kildare, showing a ruthlessness and swagger that will be extremely pleasing to Gavin at this stage of the year.
Tyrone will have to cope with a well-oiled scoring machine and Bernard Brogan is leading it at the top of the scoring charts already this year.
His 1-05 last week was a joy to behold and the Kildare defenders were outclassed in the second half.
It portrayed a panel that is enjoying the early parts of the year with some new input and looking to impress a new man at the helm.
A 100% record and an average of over 20 points a game, there is not much more a manager can ask for.
These closing matches and likely semi-final is the time for Jim Gavin to learn a lot more about his team for the Championship.
Their work-rate has been flawless and with such excellent performances all around the field, it’ll be a process that will only help them as the year goes on.
Tyrone went down to a first defeat of 2013 in all competitions against Cork in a poor 70 minutes in Omagh.
They go into this game knowing it can show them exactly how they are faring.
Mark Donnelly said this week that Tyrone wish to secure their Division 1 status as soon as possible.
But after such a consistent start, maintaining momentum will be key.
"We really have to knuckle down this week in training and try and get something out of the Dublin game and I see they won easily against Kildare," he told the Irish News.
"If you're beaten again, you're slipping down the table and the next thing you know you're in a relegation dogfight. You don't want to be going into your last two games with that happening.”
The Dubs are on fire at the moment and look on course to cruise into the last four.
CORK v DONEGAL, Pairc Ui Rinn 5pm
Donegal allayed some relegation fears against Kerry with a sign of their movement towards optimum level and now eye up a long journey to Munster.
Jim McGuinness, as expected, is more focused on his summer targets than the latter stages of the league. Fitness, experimenting and bringing in more options for his selection make-up has been the bones of year so far.
With four points on the board, this match will decide where their league season goes but it has been productive.
Ross Wherity has been given a run, while Ryan McHugh has also come into the team in a half-back role.
That will please the Donegal boss and according to captain Michael Murphy, when speaking after last week's win, it is driving the panel on.
He remarked: "We're trying to keep improving. It was great to see some great performances with the likes of Ross and Ryan McHugh that have come in this year.
"They've been absolutely fantastic. They've added a fresh impetus into things for us and it's brilliant for them to keep pushing everybody on."
Cork are looking to make it three on the bounce in the division and keep hopes of retaining their crown alive.
Not many teams take points on the road against Tyrone and the mettle shown, albeit on a league stage in a poor game, coupled with the last gasp win against Down, will please Conor Counihan.
The Cork boss has named 14 players from the victory over the Red Hand in the line-up to take on the All-Ireland champions.
Ciarán Sheehan is out after picking up a shoulder injury in that match.
Donncha O'Connor comes in and Alan O'Connor and Daniel Goulding are back on the bench.
The Rebels are on a roll now and likely to just edge what should be match brimming with quality.
MAYO v KILDARE, Castlebar 7pm
Division 1 football is pivotal for Mayo and this is a match they really have to win to keep on track.
The top flight gives the Green and Red a chance to square off with the best sides in the country, and competitive matches with the likes of Dublin, Donegal and Cork allow them a big advantage on their rivals.
That can lead to an increased sharpness later in the year, but it certainly has not been viewable in their last three matches.
It was a promising start, beating Kerry and talk began of a high finish in the league.
Since then, they’ve lose three in succession, with inconsistency littered throughout against Tyrone, Dublin and in particular Down.
The manner of the losses can be particularly confidence-sapping.
For almost all of the games, they held hopes of taking the points despite trailing, and lost out against the Mourne for lack of the extra kick to finish the job.
That has to change against the Lilywhites.
It was the worst league defeat in five year for Kildare in Croke Park against Dublin last week and again, one that could a have a damaging effect.
They had previously won all their league games and the belief of manager Kieran McGeeney is that the mauling suffered at the hands of the Dubs can be eradicated to the history books.
He said: “It's a game, you pick yourself up and go home. It doesn't really matter sometimes if you get beaten by one point, it's the same result. We get a true reflection of where we are (with the defeat).”
There will be plenty watching to see how they do bounce back from the 13-point loss and it might just be with victory in Castlebar.