Last year the finalists in Division 3 were guaranteed a shot at the Sam Maguire Cup, but this year it's different.

2023 marks the first year that we have a defending Tailteann Cup champion and what it means in practice is that Division 3 Westmeath will be competing for Sam Maguire this summer, come what may in the league or the Leinster championship.

They will be added to the eight provincial finalists, alongside the seven highest ranked teams - based on league performance - who haven't made it to their provincial final. We know that, after the draw for the Connacht SFC, one of London, Sligo, New York or Leitrim will be guaranteed a spot in the western provincial decider.

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The finalists in the third tier of the league are considered to be ranked higher than the sides who finished seventh and eighth in Division 2 at the end of the competition. But, with only 16 counties allowed into the Sam Maguire race, it means that qualification for the elite competition this summer cannot be secured by any of the other seven Division 3 counties this spring.

Any of those seven could still reach their respective provincial final, thus demoting a Division 2 side into the Tailteann Cup. But it marks a big change from last year when the two Division 3 finalists - Louth and Limerick - knew that their reward for finishing in the top two in Division 3 was a Sam Maguire spot.

We've seen Division 1 in the Allianz Hurling League become less important for counties since the format of the Championship changed. It remains to be seen as to whether that's the fate for Division 3 in the football league now that a path to the top championship tier is no longer on offer within it.

Regardless of that, this is a division with plenty of promise; hard to call and where counties could easily move from promotion chasers, to relegation battlers, and back again over the course of the seven games.

There are five managers who are in year one of their terms, meaning that this weekend will see them on the sidelines with their respective counties for the first time.

Down will be looking for a much better 2023 after losing all of their games last year

Ulster champions in 2020, Cavan have been yo-yoing around the NFL for more than half a decade. You have to go back to 2015-2016 for the last time they spent consecutive seasons in the same division.

Since then they've spent two seasons in the top flight, the same in Division 2, one year down in Division 4, and now they're about to start their second campaign in that period in the third tier.

Mickey Graham, the longest-serving manager in Division 3, will be hopeful of finding some winning momentum ahead of his fifth summer with the Breffni, knowing that they've avoided Tyrone, Monaghan and defending champions Derry in the Ulster SFC.

Offaly and Down were relegated from Division 2 last spring, but with new managers involved in both counties there's optimism that things can be turned around quickly this time around.

It's Liam Kearns who takes over the Faithful County, and looks to transition some of their All-Ireland Under-20 winners from two years ago into the senior squad.

They came close to maintaining their second tier status last year, while they were also semi-finalists in the inaugural Tailteann Cup.

The Mourne men, meanwhile, are set to be led by Conor Laverty as they attempt to rekindle some of the old spirit that brought the county two Sam Maguires in the early 1990s, as well as a trip to the final 13 years ago.

It has been a barren period for Down with just two provincial wins since their last trip to the Ulster final in 2017. They'll have to return there again to avoid competing for the Tailtean Cup once more, where they lost in the last 16 in 2022.

It was one of nine defeats they suffered in nine games across league and championship in 2022.

Longford picked up some early season silverware in the O'Byrne Cup

Longford enjoyed a positive start to the 2023 under new manager Paddy Christie as they won the O'Byrne Cup last weekend.

The Midlanders caused some of the big shocks in the qualifiers down the years, putting out Mayo, Monaghan and Derry, but they generally couldn't back these up. The Tailteann Cup is a much more realistic target for them to aim for.

It's a competition that could suit them, just like Division 3 has in the NFL. They've spent eight of the last 10 seasons there, with one campaign in the second and fourth tiers thrown in. Christie is an ambitious manager, so it'll be interesting to see how much of that he can instill in his new players.

Another of the Covid provincial champions is Tipperary, and David Power will be looking to make it back-to-back promotions after finishing second in Division 4 last season.

The Premier County couldn't carry that form over to the Tailteann Cup last summer, and with Kerry on their side of the Munster SFC, the league will be about getting ready for a proper tilt at the second tier competition later in the year.

Andy McEntee didn't spend much time out of inter-county management having joined Antrim

From a manager in his fourth year, to another one making his debut. Dessie Dolan is one of the most successful modern players to have donned the maroon jersey with Westmeath, having claimed provincial honours at club and inter-county level before his retirement in 2019.

He's taken up the mantle of trying to lead the next group to those heights all over again. As explained above, the Lake County are the exception in this division in 2023 as they will be competing for the Sam Maguire in the summer.

How Dolan treats the league will be interesting with the county board having offered him a two-year contract initially, with the option to stay on for a third year.

Kieran Donnelly has added former Tyrone All-Ireland winner Ronan O'Neill to his backroom team as Fermanagh look to avoid being dragged into the bottom half of the Division 3 table.

One point from their last three league games in 2022 put pay to their hopes of promotion. They were beaten in their Ulster preliminary match by then All-Ireland champions Tyrone, before managing an impressive Taliteann Cup victory over Longford.

While one of the more leftfield appointments in the off season saw Andy McEntee - having departed his native Meath - agree to join Antrim.

After relegation from Division 3 in 2017, the men from the north east finished in third place in the bottom tier before finally managing to gain promotion in 2021.

Last year they were solidly mid-table in Division 3. What the former All-Ireland winning manager with Ballyboden St Enda's can do with the Saffrons should make for interesting viewing this year.

Division 3 round one fixtures:

Saturday 28 January

Fermanagh v Longford, Brewster Park, 2pm
Tipperary v Down, FBD Semple Stadium, 6pm

Sunday 29 January (both 2pm)

Antrim v Offaly, Corrigan Park
Westmeath v Cavan, TEG Cusack Park

Follow Mayo v Galway (throw-in 7.30pm) via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport or the RTÉ News app, alternatively watch live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player, from 7.15pm. Highlights and reaction to all the weekend's action on Allianz League Sunday on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player from 9.30pm.

Live commentary and updates also on Saturday Sport and Sunday Sport, RTÉ Radio 1.