By James McMahon
Spring has definitely been in the air this last week and its arrival is welcome ahead of the clocks going forward and the prospect of even more benign conditions.
So far this year’s Football League has thrown up many fine games in spite of the meteorological tutbulence and with the surface underfoot now getting a chance to dry the the likelihood of even better fare is a real prospect.
Kildare v Kerry
Last Sunday the sky was nearly on the ground in Fitzgerald Stadium, but Kerry certainly lightened up proceeding with a clinical second-half display that had Tyrone reeling. The Kingdom were at last on the board.
Bryan Sheehan returned to the side and was deadly accurate from placed balls. Darran O’Sullivan made an appearance from the bench - and to cap it all off James O’Donoghue helped himself to a hat-trick of goals.
Coach Eamonn Fitzmaurice was pleased that his charges put in a sustained second-half performance, but questions must be asked of Tyrone and why they were so meek in that period. However, that’s not Kerry’s problem and on Sunday next they travel to Newbridge to take on Kildare.
The Lilywhites have lost three games on the trot and another reverse would leave staring relegation in the face. Requiring a win from their visit to Derry at the end of the month won’t be easy.
Jason Ryan has formulated a pattern of play that he wants to develop but so far it’s not reaping dividends with regard to points. That’s said his side have played reasonably well in their games so far.
Last Saturday they created at least half a dozen goal chances against the Dubs, while their loss to Tyrone was unforgivable considering the possession the had - allied with the strange decision to substitute key players late on. That reverse could yet prove costly when the points are tallied at the end of the campaign.
Prediction: A definite contender for game of the day here. Kildare won’t be as timid as Tyrone were last weekend, but having finished they way they did against the Ulster county, Kerry will feel that they have a momentum that could unsettle the Lilywhites.
Mayo v Cork
Those travelling to McHale Park could be in for an entertaining 70 minutes as Mayo play host to Division 1 table toppers Cork.
The respective managers saw much they liked after victories last weekend. However James Horan felt that his side “dropped their standard’ after starting like an express train against Westmeath, while Brian Cuthbert referred to the “five minutes of madness” that saw his side concede two goals in their tussle with Derry.
Mayo were boosted by the return of Cillian O’Connor in Mullingar, while Mikey Sweeney made an impression at corner forward.
Cork have made eight changes for their trip west. Eoin Cadogan and Aidan Walsh return, having been on hurling duty last weekend, while there's a start for Colm O'Driscoll.
Donncha O'Connor returns to the full forward line, and following two substitute appearances, Colm O'Neill gets his first start of the year.
Prediction: A win for Mayo will probably ensure that there long stay in the top flight continues, while success for the Rebels will guarantee them a semi-final spot.
However I suspect that the Green and Red will also be playing in the last four in April. A tentative vote goes to James Horan’s side to prevail in front of their support and on the drying sod that should suit their game.
Derry v Dublin
Derry welcome Dublin to Celtic Park and won’t want to start as badly as they did against Cork. That said they recovered well and only lost out by a point.
Enda Lynn and Ciarán McFaul really took the fight to their opponents and the same drive will be required against the All-Ireland champions.
For their part, Jim Gavin’s men got back on track with a 10-point victory over Kildare. However, the news that Ciarán Kilkenny did his cruciate in that game and will be out for the rest of the season is a blow for the player.
Other counties would suffer in his absence but Dublin’s squad has real depth and last weekend we saw the likes of Kevin McManamon at his flying best and he was ably supported by the likes of Paddy Andrews and Tomás Brady.
In saying that the Lilywhites had numerous goal chances last Saturday evening and their ability to unlock the door of the Dubs defence as often as they did will be a concern to Gavin and his management team.
Prediction: Derry are continuing to make progress under Brian McIver. So far this term they have beaten Kerry and could easily have picked up a point the last day against Cork. They won’t fear Dublin on their home patch and I’m going to place my faith in them to take a notable scalp.
Tyrone v Westmeath
Elsewhere in the top flight, Tyrone play host to Westmeath. Mickey Harte’s stinging response after their mauling by Kerry was probably expected, with Seán Cavanagh subsequently apologising to the fans for the display.
His charges were very leg-weary in the second half in Killarney and looked like a side that had given too much in training in the run-up, more likely as a result of their performance against Kildare where they used a prominent get out of jail card.
Westmeath recovered from a bad start against Mayo to at least make the game competitive, but again ended up with no points.
Prediction: Westmeath have to win to give themselves a chance of staying up and then hope for similar outcome against Kerry and Kildare. Tyrone, however, are unlikely to be in an accommodating mood in Omagh.
Armagh v Monaghan
Paul Grimley’s men have suddenly found a bit of form after impressive wins over Meath and Laois. Monaghan, as expected, saw off Louth to remain on track for promotion, though the performance wasn’t overly convincing.
Prediction: The momentum is with the Orchard County, though with Conor McManus a real threat, Malachy O’Rourke’s side may have the resolve to edge this one.
Down v Donegal
Meath surprisingly took a point off Donegal in Ballybofey, while Down were somewhat flat in going down to a first defeat against Galway in Tuam.
The weekend tie in Newry will evoke memories of their Championship encounter last June when the Mournemen failed to capitalise on the numerous chances they created.
Prediction: Donegal by two
Laois v Armagh
After a convincing win over the Galway the previous week, Laois slipped to a nine-point loss in Armagh. Another reverse and they’ll find themselves in the relegation scrap.
The same scenario applies to Meath, who surely would have seen themselves as promotion contenders at the start of the campaign.
Prediction: The Royals showed much tenacity when forcing a draw against Donegal last Sunday and if they apply themselves in the same manner at O’Moore Park then the points should be theirs.
Louth v Galway
The Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda is the setting for this basement battle. Louth showed some improvement despite going down to Monaghan last weekend, while Galway finally stirred themselves to see past Down.
Prediction: The Wee County won’t lack motivation, while Galway will be out to make it back-to-back wins so as to silence their doubters even more. The vote goes to the westerners, but with no great confidence.
Predictions: Roscommon and Cavan to continue their promotion with wins over Offaly and Longford respectively. A loss for the Faithful County would push them closer towards the Division 4 for next season.
Elsewhere Limerick should see past Fermanagh at the Gaelic Grounds, while Wexford and Sligo looks set to be a tight affair at Wexford Park, with the Yeats County getting the slight nod to prevail.
Predictions: Leitrim can make their long journey to Waterford worthwhile with a win to keep them on track to top the Division. Tipperary, who head the table on points difference, can account for Antrim at Semple Stadium.
SATURDAY 15 MARCH
Allianz FL Division 2
Armagh v Monaghan, Athletic Grounds, 7pm
Laois v Meath, O'Moore Park, 7pm
Allianz FL Division 4
Waterford v Leitrim, Fraher Field, 5pm
SUNDAY 16 MARCH
Allianz FL Division 1
Derry v Dublin, Celtic Park, 2pm
Tyrone v Westmeath, Healy Park, 2pm
Kildare v Kerry, Newbridge, 2.30pm
Mayo v Cork, MacHale Park, 2.30pm
Allianz FL Division 2
Down v Donegal, Pairc Esler, 2pm
Louth v Galway, Gaelic Grounds, 2.30pm
Allianz FL Division 3
Wexford v Sligo, Wexford Park, 12.45pm
Limerick v Fermanagh, Gaelic Grounds, 2pm
Longford v Cavan, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 2pm
Roscommon v Offaly, Dr Hyde Park, 2pm
Allianz FL Division 4
Carlow v Wicklow, Dr Cullen Park, 1pm
Tipperary v Antrim, Semple Stadium, 2pm
Live radio coverage of Saturday’s Allianz Football and Hurling League action on An tSraith Náisiúnta from 19:00 on Saturday 15 March on RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide). Live coverage and updates of all Sunday’s action on Sunday Sport from 14:00 on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide). Television highlights on League Sunday from 19:30 on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only).