by Micil Glennon
Limerick and Offaly kick-start the weekend's divisional finals after successful promotion campaigns in Division 4 of the Allianz National Football League.
The Treaty County arrive in Croke Park on Saturday having topped the pile in the bottom tier, finishing with six wins from seven games, with only Tipperary spoiling their record in round five.
The Round 2 league encounter between the sides saw Maurice Horan's charges etch out a one-point win, 0-12 to 1-08, in Tullamore.
Trailing by two at half-time, late scores from Ian Ryan and Eoghan O'Connor proved the difference on the day.
With inspirational midfielder John Galvin due to make his first competitive start since suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury 12 months ago, the Munster men will be confident of repeating the early-season result.
Horan is delighted to be able to call upon the Croom clubman, crucial to any Championship ambitions, and glad to get a rare run-out in HQ.
“I think this is the fourth time that Limerick footballers have ever played at Croke Park and that’s a great bonus for us,” the Mayo man said in the Irish Times.
For Offaly, promotion to Division 3 was the only game in town.
With Kildare, who beat their neighbours by 13 points in Leinster last year, looming on the Championship horizon, going up was always the 'be all and end all' for 2013.
However, the Faithful County's path to promotion wasn't as straightforward as their opponent's. Beaten twice in the opening three games, their solitary win came away to London on the opening day.
Facing a third straight defeat in Leitrim, they struck late to claim the points – a result that gave them the impetus needed for their promotion quest.
The midlanders went on to clinch a Division 3 spot with a last-day home win over Tipperary.
For Emmet McDonnell, in his first year in charge, it's mission accomplished.
And it's impossible to understate the importance of promotion as they bid to stop the rot that had set in in football in the county.
Not many of the Offaly side have played in Croke Park before so the clash gives them a chance to get used to the surroundings ahead of their Championship date with Kildare on 1 June in the same venue, another bonus for the young squad.
McDonnell has been honest in the build-up to Saturday's game, in contrast to the league campaign he is targeting performance ahead of outcome.
Sticking with the same line-up that beat Tipp, McDonnell said in the Tullamore Tribune: “The result does not matter that much. It is about how we perform. Croke Park is a big open pitch and we want to see how we use the space. We will be looking for a good performance.”
The merits of the lower division finals have been questioned in some quarters but for the participants it serves as a welcome stopgap between competitive games.
In Limerick's case, it bridges a seven-week gap before their Munster opener at home to Cork on 25 May, and, in Offaly's case, an eight-week break before the Kildare tie.
The fact that the Leinster men have done the heavy lifting already may mean an easing off and Limerick should have the manpower to get the job done.
Offaly: Alan Mulhall, Paul McConway, Shane Sullivan, Brian Darby, Eoin Carroll, Sean Pender, Michael Brazil, Alan McNamee, Richie Dalton, Graham Guilfoyle, Brian Connor, Anton Sullivan, Niall Darby, Niall McNamee(c), Ken Casey.
Limerick: Donal O'Sullivan, Andy Lane, Johnny McCarthy, Mark O'Riordan, Stephen Lavin, Paudie Browne, Pa Ranahan, Bobby O'Brien, John Galvin, John Riordan, Thomas Lee, Seanie Buckley(c), Eoghan O'Connor, Ger Collins, Ian Ryan.
Live radio coverage of the Allianz National Leagues from 14:00 on Sunday 28 April on RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide). Highlights of all the weekend’s Allianz League action on League Sunday on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only) from 19:30.