The Allianz Football League came to a close this weekend with Kerry winning a record 23rd League crown and Roscommon, Louth and Cavan winning trophies to complete their promotions.
But how is it going before the championship, which starts on Saturday week?
Kerry looks awesome – but when will we see them again?
The omens are good for Kerry after Jack O’Connor began his third term as manager in much the same way as the previous two – winning the League title. Those two wins, in 2004 and 2009, were followed by an All-Ireland brace later that year, a brace O’Connor also scored in 2006.
As things stand, Kerry faces a five-week gap between Sunday’s win over Mayo and Munster’s semi-final against Cork on May 7. But if Munster Council doesn’t budge and Cork holds out to play the game at Páirc Uí Rinn and nowhere else, then Kerry would have a walk and an eight-week layoff. The All-Ireland quarter-final would again take place a month later.
Kerry therefore eyes the prospect of a game, against lower Division Two opposition at best, 12 weeks from now before facing knockout football.
In other words, it is arguably more important to Kerry that the Munster semi-final takes place in Páirc Uí Rinn than in Cork.
Can Mayo bounce back?
Champions Connacht were deprived of a number of key players on Sunday and should be much stronger on paper in the Championship – but the absentees still don’t explain a 15-point loss and it’s not the the perfect backdrop as they prepare to take on Galway later this month.
Blows of this magnitude are reasonably rare in League finals, although Dublin did light work of Derry (15 points) and Cork (11) in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
Derry never recovered and lost to Donegal and Longford in the Championship, while the following year Cork lost a Munster final replay to Kerry before Kildare sent them packing.
Perhaps more encouraging for Mayo, Kerry’s win on Sunday was the most important of a League final as they had 20 points to spare over defending All-Ireland champions Down in 1961. But Down retained his title later that year, seeing off Kerry by six points in the semi-final.
Galway’s Croke Park record
Having already earned promotion, losing the Division Two Finals won’t make or break Galway’s year.
But it bolstered their poor record at Croke Park. Since the All Ireland final victory in 2001, they have played 17 games at the GAA headquarters, winning only two (against Kildare in the 2017 Division 2 final and against Kerry in the 2018 ‘Super 8s’), with Sunday’s loss their third on the trot instead.
Can Roscommon stop yo-yoing?
Remarkably, Roscommon’s win over Galway delivered their fourth Division Two title since 2015.
Only once in the meantime – 2016 – have they managed to survive in the top flight, with their last two titles immediately followed by relegation.
This raises the question of whether the Premier Division should be expanded to allow greater access to the top opposition for more counties for development purposes and remove the cutthroat element that exists.
Although the league structure is popular, it is debatable whether it serves the wider needs of the game well. the elite found themselves at the top of the first division.
Louth the most improved team in the country
Louth barely emerged from Division Four last year, made no progress in the Championship and lost their first league game to Laois this year before drawing against Longford.
Laois are now in Division Four and Longford could easily have found their way there too. But Louth has since won six games in a row to earn promotion from Division Three and clinch the title after Saturday’s loss to Limerick.
The climb will get steeper from here for them, but Mickey Harte has made a lot of progress in a short time.
Rare Croke Park silverware for Cavan
Given how far Cavan has gone up and down the divisions in recent years in particular, it is remarkable that their win over Tipperary on Sunday to seal the Division Four title was their first silverware at Croke Park at senior level since Mick Higgins lifted the Sam. Maguire Cup in 1952.
What is probably even more remarkable is that, despite being Ulster champions in 2020, they were the province’s lowest ranked team in the League with their opening game of the Championship against Antrim, who have been promoted to Division Two, as April 23 approaches.
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