By Martin Carney
The clocks have gone forward. The evenings are lengthening. Sunday is decision time for many teams as they contest the final round of the regular Football League season.
In Division 1 both Kildare and Westmeath have plunged through the relegation trap door so their joust in Newbridge carries little more than bragging rights.
Of the remaining six, both Cork and Derry appear certain to contest the semi finals leaving Dublin, Mayo, Tyrone and possibly Kerry with lots to play for.
Horan's men need to tighten up
Mayo host table toppers Derry in what is a must win game for them. In a topsy-turvy season to date they hold the scoring record in the division, while simultaneously conceding more than any of the other teams.
Indeed their concession of 13 goals exceeds that of any other team across the League. These defensive deficiencies in recent games are certain to have caused alarm and prompted a review of the wisdom of the gung-ho attacking approach that has been a feature of their half-back line and midfield.
Individually these sectors are faring well but the absence of cover on turnover ball has hurt.
Jason Gibbons has blossomed into a midfielder of real consequence this spring and along with Aidan O’Shea has provided Mayo with a solid platform. Provided their defensive duties are given equal priority the westerners will be hard to beat on their own turf.
Derry’s Mark Lynch has given his team leadership and direction. His tally of 2-27 so far confirms this, but Mayo’s desire and need for silverware, even a League title, should propel them to the last four.
Dubs to enter the Tyrone den
Tyrone and Dublin met twice in last year’s campaign, with each side savouring a victory in what were enjoyable contests. Omagh is a tough venue which seldom dispenses favours to visiting teams and whenever the prospect of ending Dublin’s interest in the League is hitched to Tyrone's opportunity of advancement you can expect a full-on encounter.
Last Saturday’s draw with Mayo will send Dublin north in confident mood. Eoghan O’Gara’s goals might have been the icing on the cake but what was hard to ignore was the class of Cormac Costello, the guile and industry of Kevin McManamon and the team’s refusal to allow Stephen Cluxton’s sending-off derail them.
Dublin are getting close to Championship pace and their strength in depth is enviable. Yet if recent history tells us anything it is that Tyrone delight in lowering the colours of the so-called established footballing order.
Mickey Harte will be keen to atone for their drop in performance levels in the second half of their outing with Cork. The All-Ireland champions can expect a more customary and consistent Tyrone onslaught than was in evidence in Páirc Uí Rinn last week.
What we all would like to see reprised is the exhibition of kicking skills performed by Kyle Coney.
It’s refreshing to see a player not obsessed with the urge to take on defenders and be remembered for his work-rate and industry. Last Sunday the Ardboe lad was a model of efficiency with his elegant and accurate striking of the ball with either foot.
If his partnership with Darren McCurry can flourish Tyrone can rediscover recent glories quicker than many imagined. Nonetheless, though it will be hard- earned, I think the Dubs will squeak it.
Old foes collide ahead of expected summer showdown
I’m not sure if either team would have welcomed meeting the other at this stage of the spring campaign and if my earlier predictions succeed, a Kerry win will be simply academic with Cork going through and the Kingdom establishing a psychological edge for the inevitable Munster final meeting in July.
Both teams will have drawn comfort from their campaign to date. David Moran has put his injury woes behind him and forged a strong partnership with Anthony Maher.
Stephen O’Brien, James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney strike a nice balance in their full- forward line and to a degree are compensating for the loss of the maestro, Colm Cooper.
Brian Cuthbert fields a largely experimental defence this weekend by placing Paddy Kelly at centre half back and giving starts to Damien Cahalane and Jamie Sullivan.
Yet it is the omission of Paul Kerrigan, Donnacha O’Connor and Colm O’Neill that suggests to me that winning this game isn’t a benchmark he is too bothered about.
Division 3 beckons for Laois?
Briefly looking at the other divisions it appears that barring a calamity, Monaghan will meet Donegal in the Division 2 decider.
Their two point advantage over the third placed team, Down, added to their vastly superior points difference virtually guarantees them promotion.
At the other end of the table, Laois, Armagh and Galway play for their survival in the section. Of the three Galway face a daunting trip to Clones. Their earlier form was poor but if they can use the momentum gained from their last three outings they have enough talent to survive.
I think Donegal will beat Armagh and Laois’ recent run of poor results will continue and condemn them to Division 3.
Cavan and Roscommon are the Division 3 kingpins, while at the foot of the table the outcome of the head-to-head between Wexford and Longford will decide who will join Offaly in Division 4.
Clare can make step up with Tipp
Even though they have a difficult away trip to Belfast on Sunday I still expect Clare have done enough to face Tipperary in the divisional final and get promotion as Tipp should take care of the third placed team Wicklow.
Everything points to an exciting conclusion to the League so go out and support your team.
SATURDAY 5 APRIL
Limerick v Cavan, Gaelic Grounds, 4pm
SUNDAY 6 APRIL
Kerry v Cork, Austin Stack Park, 3pm
Kildare v Westmeath, Newbridge, 3pm
Mayo v Derry, MacHale Park, 3pm
Tyrone v Dublin, Healy Park, 3pm
Armagh v Donegal, Athletic Grounds, 3pm
Laois v Down, O'Moore Park, 3pm
Louth v Meath, Gaelic Grounds, 3pm
Monaghan v Galway, Clones, 3pm
Fermanagh v Offaly, Brewster Park, 3pm
Roscommon v Sligo, Dr Hyde Park, 3pm
Wexford v Longford, Wexford Park, 3pm
Antrim v Clare, Creggan, 2pm
London v Leitrim, Ruislip, 2pm
Tipperary v Wicklow, Semple Stadium, 2pm
Waterford v Carlow, Dungarvan, 2pm
Live coverage and updates of all Sunday’s action from 14:00 on Sunday 6 April on RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide). Television highlights on League Sunday from 19:30 on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only).