NFL Division 1A

Mayo v Kerry (Sunday)

It's an opening round that was picked to help preview writers ease into the Allianz NFL Division 1A as Mayo and Kerry meet in Castlebar in a repeat of the 2006 All-Ireland final, throw in 2.30pm.

Kerry's Pat O'Shea has selected ten of the team who ran out in Croke Park in September 2006, with debuts handed to Cillian Young and Brendan Guiney. Kieran Donaghy, last year's player of the championship, will be slotted into the midfield for the Kingdom alongside Darragh O Sé.

This fixture  certainly wasn't designed to help heal the fractured psyche of Mayo's footballers. On paper the men from the West are capable of beating Kerry. After all, though Kerry are the kings in the championship, the power relationship switches in the league, where Mayo have always dominated.

But unlike most league openers, the course of this game will depend on how Mayo have recovered from the All-Ireland final, which must still sting. Moreover, they're missing Ronan McGarrity, Pat Harte, Keith Higgins, Liam O'Malley and Ciaran McDonald.

The heart, once again, wants Mayo; but the head … well, you know.

Verdict: Kerry

Fermanagh v Limerick (Sunday)

Survival will be the premier goal for Fermanagh and Limerick in
Allianz NFL Division 1A, and this game at Clones will decide who has the edge in the race to survive, throw in at 2.30pm.

Limerick boss Mickey Ned O'Sullivan has drafted Padraig Browne into the centreback spot and James Ryan into the half-forward line after defeat to Cork in the McGrath Cup final.

The Treatymen were stubborn against Cork in the McGrath Cup, with Michael Reidy's steady point-taking ensuring that Cork did not get clear until the very end of the match.

Fermanagh, for their part, will have a major hole in the squad after the departure of Rory Gallagher for Cavan player. Expect Fermanagh, even without Gallagher, to have the edge at this stage.

Verdict: Fermanagh


NFL Division 1B

Galway v Derry (Sunday)

Two of the form teams from last year's NFL clash at Pearse stadium on Sunday when Galway host Derry in the opening round of the Allianz NFL Division 1B, throw-in at 2.30pm.

The Tribesmen pipped the Oak Leaf County for a spot in the semi-final less than 12 months ago so both sides will be keen to lay down an early marker in this year's campaign.

Good news for Galway is that Joe Bergin, hero of the first
International Rules Test at the tail-end of 2006, is fit to start. The
Mountbellew-Moylough clubman will add some needed muscle to Peter Ford's midfield department.

Derry will, once again, be hoping that Paddy Bradley and Enda Muldoon come to the fore in front of the opposition goalmouth. There were some surprises when manager Paddy Crozier cut regulars like Francis McEldowney, Johnny Bradley and Conleth Moran from the panel for the NFL campaign. However, some new blood may send them on to the next step in the development of this squad.

Despite this expect Galway to please the home crowd and get 2007 under way with a winning start.

Verdict: Galway

Kildare v Armagh (Sunday)

The battle of the lucky survivors takes place at Newbridge on Sunday when Armagh make the journey to take on Kildare, throw-in at 2.30pm.

Both sides survived in the top tier due to a points difference that
was superior to Meath – who duly made the drop to the lower division.

Armagh are notoriously slow starters in the NFL and manager Joe Kernan will be keen to get his side off to a better note than in previous years. They had a good workout against Donegal last week, despite losing, and that should steel them ahead of this clash.

Dermot Earley takes over as captain of the Lilywhites and he will have his work cut out to motivate his troops. Their performances in the championship last summer were abysmal.

Manager John Crofton will need to unearth some young talent in the county if they have anything to look forward to in the near future. It's unlikely that they will be able to hold off the Orchardmen on Sunday.

Verdict: Armagh

Louth v Down (Sunday)

Louth make their bow in the top tier when they tackle Down in Drogheda at 2.30pm on Sunday.

This local derby has all the elements to be the game of the day as The Wee County are sure to jump at the chance to prove themselves against top opposition once more. Unfortunately they are carrying more than their fair share of injuries into this battle – Darren Clarke and JP Rooney will be missed in their forward department.

Down were very disappointing in the Dr McKenna Cup, finishing their campaign with a single win along the way. However, this has been tempered by the victory of their Under-21 side against Monaghan in the first round of the Shamrock tournament.

Louth will suffer from their lack of strength in depth, even a county will a strongly developed squad would struggle with their injury list. They will also have trouble will Down's explosive forwards.

There is no doubt that Louth will cause an upset at some stage of the campaign, given the relative weakness of Division 1B, but it won be this weekend. Down to win.

Verdict: Down

Westmeath v Laois (Sunday)

A midlands derby is on the cards as Westmeath square up to Laois on Sunday, throw-in at 2.30pm in Cusack Park.

Liam Kearns will be most pleased with his side's showing in the
O'Byrne Cup final last weekend. They took Dublin to extra-time, losing out by a single point at the long whistle. Kearns could hardly have asked for a better warm-up for his charges as they embark on another NFL campaign.

Westmeath are suffering from a mini-injury crisis as a number of key players, including Gary Dolan, have been ruled out of the game.

The main difference between Westmeath now and 12 months ago is the availability of Dessie Dolan. He will be a handful for any defence that they face and the Midlanders chances of survival in this division lie on his shoulders.

Laois always manage to get themselves involved at the business end of the NFL while Westmeath have yet to feature in the knock out stages. There is little to suggest that this season will offer a change to this trend and the O'Moore men should get their campaign under way with a comfortable win.

Verdict: Laois

by Barry Whyte