- Jim Gavin tells Brian Carthy that to be qualified for the league semi-final is a bonus
- Brian Carthy reports on Kildare's win over Longford in the Leinster U21 football final
- Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney says it's great for his youngsters to win the Leinster U21 title
- Brian Carthy rounds up all the team news ahead of a crucial final weekend of the Allianz NFL
Kerry face relegation, while Cork look to secure a semi-final spot in Division 1 this weekend.
by Rory Houston
All games Sunday, 3pm
Donegal v Dublin, Ballybofey
The onus is on Donegal as they host Dublin in Ballybofey, knowing a win can move them into the top four and also away from the threat of relegation.
A mixed league season, which Jim McGuinness believes has been quite beneficial for his panel with a small number of new faces coming in and experimenting with players in alternate positions, sees Donegal with two wins from six matches and needing one more result to avoid the drop.
McGuinness feels that his side are on track for their summer schedule, and he’ll be keen to make sure they have Division 1 football to look forward to again next year.
They came up a resolute and determined Mayo side in Castlebar two weeks ago in a four-point defeat and will welcome home advantage against an already-qualified Dublin.
Neil McGee is out after suffering a dislocated kneecap against Mayo but otherwise they should have a strong selection.
Dublin made a lightning start to the league and have just one blemish against Tyrone as they await the conclusion of the regular league matches.
They need to better Tyrone’s result to go back to the head of the standings.
Jim Gavin has the option of giving game time to some of his Ballymun Kickhams men who have been away on club duty, as well as looking at other aspects with their semi-final place assured.
Ahead of this game, he has spoken with relish of the situation that lies ahead of their visit to Ulster.
Gavin told RTÉ: “The semi-finals are a bonus for ourselves. We’ve taken each national league games on its merits and to be going up to the north west corner of the island in Ballybofey against Donegal is a fantastic challenge for the Dublin football team. Both teams will want a result.
“After Sunday, Donegal have seven weeks to go to their challenge against Tyrone and we have eight weeks to go until our Championship game.
“Both managements and players will have one eye on that as well and it certainly forms part of our preparations and I’m sure part of theirs as well.
“It’s going to be a very tight game, both defences will be very strong and very structured so I think it will be very entertaining and a close game.”
Donegal will be determined to finish on a positive note and keep their place and chances of a semi-final place alive, it should see them over the line in this game at least.
Tyrone v Kerry, Omagh
Kerry looked certainties for relegation but they can complete a remarkable turnaround this weekend if they better the result of Donegal or Mayo when they visit Tyrone.
The Kingdom lost to both sides in the league and with a vastly inferior points calculation, they will rely on some help to avoid the drop.
The most important matter in their league campaign became stopping a run of defeats and with two wins now on the board, they’ve raised their game to ensure avoiding a disastrous start for Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
Regardless of what happens on Sunday, Fitzmaurice’s most important work lies in the next number of weeks.
A host of players will return to the panel, with Paul Galvin and Colm Cooper already back in the fold and contributing to their last victory.
David Moran and Bryan Sheehan will come into thoughts for summer, and if they can pull off an escape, it could galvanise the new structure in the county and raise confidence like we saw with Donegal this time last year.
Kerry held a planned Easter training camp in Portugal and will hope to have renewed vigour in Omagh to overcome the Red Hand and match Cork’s result in the county earlier in the campaign.
Tyrone can top the division if they take the points and Mickey Harte will use the final league match before the semi-finals to assess Darren McCurry and Ronan O’Neill’s form.
It’s a first league start for McCurry in the forward line while O’Neill comes in for the first time this year. Justin McMahon also replaces Conor Clarke.
Tyrone have been quite consistent in the league, bar a slip up against the Rebels when they failed to get going on the day, and they’ll hope to keep the winning feeling that would send Kerry through the trap door.
Harte has experimented with forwards throughout the league and the panel compared to last July’s meeting is very different, with over a third in contention this Sunday not featuring that day.
The rivalry between the teams will ensure this is no dead rubber for Tyrone, given what is at stake for their opponents, but Kerry have much more to play for.
Cork v Mayo, Páirc Uí Chaoimh
Mayo make the long journey to Cork for a match that will have a big say in the semi-final and relegation outcome on Sunday.
The Rebels need a point to make sure of their place in the semi-finals, while Mayo are trying to stay out of the relegation picture with three teams below them and the possibility of a fourth-place finish if things go their way with a win.
It’s a fantastic setting for drama in this last set of fixtures and a test of mettle early in the season, with both sides lacking at some point in that department this year so far.
Maximum points in Tyrone looked to give Cork the basis to seal a league semi-final place until Kerry showed too much in Tralee.
They will be confident of finishing the job on Sunday but must do so without a number of key players.
Alan O’Connor is on the sidelines, along with Eoin Cadogan, Patrick Kelly and Ciaran Sheehan. Colm O’Neill is out for the rest of the year.
James Loughrey is on the bench for the Rebels - the former Antrim half-back moved south this year and comes into the panel to add a new high-class option for Conor Counihan.
Graham Canty takes O’Connor’s place in an otherwise unchanged team.
Barry Moran, Keith and Cathal Freeman sit out for Mayo after sustaining injuries in club action, with doubts over more players at this vital last juncture in the league for the Connacht team.
Alan Dillon could come into for a start for the first time since the All-Ireland final defeat to Donegal in September.
James Horan’s team did well to take points from Donegal in their last game on their own patch, but this trip to Cork may prove too difficult.
Down v Kildare, Newry
Down need a miraculous set of results to avoid relegation from the Allianz Football League Division 1 as they host Kildare.
Five defeats from six mean they need to take maximum points against the Lilywhites and hope that at least two of Kerry, Donegal, and Mayo lose.
They also need to erase a points difference of at least 19 so they have to come out all guns blazing on Sunday.
It hasn’t been a feature of their play so far this year. They fought off Mayo in the only win of the league and have put in many lethargic displays, albeit without ever being heavily beaten apart from against Dublin in Croke Park.
But injury problems have hit them hard. Paul McComiskey, Liam Doyle, Dan Gordon, Daniel Hughes and Ambrose Rogers have been big losses.
Aidan Carr and Daniel McCartan were also forced out of matches and Paul McComiskey will not feature this weekend.
It’s not ideal preparations for the Ulster Championship meeting with Derry later this year. Relegation seems inevitable but James McCartan is looking at the positives and not giving up.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: “We have lost some of our games by quite narrow margins and had we been able to take our chances the situation might have been different at this stage.
“The absence of key players is a big blow but we have to go with what we have. We know this game against Kildare represents our last hope of staying up and we need to give it everything.
“They are already through to the semi-finals but that does not mean that they will be easing up.”
Kildare are already assured in the place of the semi-finals and third place, but could move further up the table depending on how the Dubs and Tyrone fare.
The most likely scenario is a semi-final meeting with the Dubs and, after a real hammering in Croke Park earlier in the season, it might be the ideal test of character ahead of the summer.
Kieran McGeeney praised the county’s under-21 team after they secured a Leinster title and believes they can step up in the next two to three years.
It’s very much a matter of now for Kildare and another win and proving their worth in the semi-finals would go a long to proving they have it takes this year.