Relegation and the line-up for the semi-finals of the Allianz Football League could be decided this weekend.
By Rory Houston
Dublin v Down
Down’s Allianz Football League Division 1 credentials will be given a big test against Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday night.
The Mourne men have only beaten Mayo so far this year in the league and their final match of the campaign is against Kildare.
It’s going to be very competitive in the final two rounds after Kerry’s win last week.
Down are now up against it after failing to build on the victory against James Horan's team and have shown some patchy form.
Benny Coulter has said the Ulster side will not give up and has targeted four points to maintain their place in the strongest tier.
He told the Irish News: "We want to win our next two games to give us a big chance to stay in this division.
"You want to be playing against the likes of the Kerrys and the Dublins and big boys like that and so we'll look forward to Dublin on Saturday night."
The Dubs were pipped by Tyrone last time out as Jim Gavin opted to use some alternatives in his panel.
It was an understandable move by Gavin and despite the defeat there was plenty to take from the match with Shane Supple and Philly Ryan among the players getting a chance to impress.
Dublin rallied and almost got back on level terms and it may have been a nice teaser for a possible semi-final meeting.
Paul Flynn and Ciaran Kilkenny picked up injuries and they will miss out this weekend in one of the low points of the match with the Red Hand.
But the Dubs should have enough to condemn Down to defeat and seal their place in the last four.
Cork v Kerry
A league meeting between these great Munster rivals is normally just a warm-up for the summer but this game carries more weight than usual, playing a key role in the promotion and relegation shake-up.
Kerry kept in the frame to avoid the drop by grinding out a win at home to Down last week and this will be another big step to climb to stay up.
The Kingdom will welcome back players over the latter stages of the league and manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice has said he is learning every week from the games.
Colm Cooper is back in training but it is expected he will not feature against the Rebels. Aidan O’Mahony is ruled out with an ankle injury from the Down game.
The impact of relegation on Kerry continues to be debated and regardless of how competitive Division 2 is, it would be a significant confidence hit at a time when Kerry are trying to build under a new regime.
One help to their chances this week is a depletion in attack for the visitors.
Colm O’Neill’s devastating third cruciate ligament injury is not just heart-breaking for the player but for the entire football community that were seeing the fruits of one of the outstanding footballers in the country.
Donncha O'Connor is out with a long-standing Achilles tendon injury, while Ciarán Sheehan and Patrick Kelly are also sidelines..
Daniel Goulding makes a welcome return to the starting line-up.
With Eoin Cadogan out with an ankle knock, Eoin O’Mahony slots in.
A win will secure Cork’s place in the next stage of the league, and Kerry could be heading for the second tier.
Kildare v Tyrone
Tyrone will be very pleased with taking maximum points in Croke Park last weekend to continue their good start to the year.
The flurry of yellow cards drew plenty of attention as they held on against the Dubs but there was no debate about the good scoring rate they managed that constantly kept the opposition trailing.
BBC has announced that "Getting through the Tyrone defence in the last 10 minutes" is to be the new challenge on "Total Wipeout"— Joe Brolly (@JoeBrolly1993) March 22, 2013
Mickey Harte makes some alterations further up the field for the trip to Kildare. Conor McAliskey and Paddy McNiece come in for Ciaran McGinley and Martin Penrose, while injury to Justin McMahon sees Ryan McKenna enter the side.
The black card discussion overshadowed the end of a run of three defeats against Dublin and they are on course for a place in the semi-finals and move into summer on a good note.
There was one trait Kildare needed to show after the capitulation against Dublin and it was present in their one-point win over Mayo that saw them close in on a semi-final place.
It took character to recover from a six-point deficit early in the half, with pressure already on the Lilywhites, and they saw off some early nerves for win that can restore some confidence in the team.
Both these sides can go through with a draw and it will be close.
Tyrone should just have enough to take the points.
Mayo v Donegal
Mayo can drag Donegal into the relegation mix this weekend, and know they must win to avoid the drop to Allianz Football League Division 2.
Since the opening weekend win over Kerry, Mayo’s league has been very poor and the manner of the defeat to Kildare summed up their frustration.
The Connacht champions built up a good early lead but once again faded and allowed their opponents back into the game.
It could have been a very different scenario facing Mayo, considering in their last two matches they’ve been beaten by less than two points on each occasion.
They must dig deep now and find something special in the final two game to stay up.
This repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final also gives Donegal the chance to seal their place in the top flight.
Jim McGuinness has said he is happy with how his team have fared and are ahead of where they were this time last year.
Karl Lacey gave Donegal a major boost this week with the news that he is back in training following a hip injury.
Lacey will be easy back in the next few weeks with a view to the Championship and his team-mates will hope to make sure of top flight football in 2014 this weekend.