Football League reaches business end as up and downs draw nearer

By John HaugheyBBC Sport NI
Monaghan's Colin Walshe challenges Dublin's Brian Fenton in the game in late January
Monaghan's form has dipped alarmingly since their opening victory over Dublin

As we approach Saturday's penultimate round of the Football League, the promotion issues in Division Four have already been settled with Derry and Leitrim's ascents guaranteed after five straight wins.

Sligo's relegation to Division Four is also assured after five straight opening defeats. One of those reverses was a last-gasp loss against top-of-the-table Down in round two after the Mournemen had been beaten at home by Laois in their opener. On such twists of fate, a season can turn.

But those issues apart, all other promotion, relegation and indeed, Division One title issues remain up for grabs.

Kerry's place in the Division One decider will be guaranteed by one more point from their remaining two games and the Kingdom will be confident of achieving that and more this weekend when they host Mayo in Tralee.

However, it is never wise to write off this resilient Mayo bunch - even though they travel to Austin Stacks Park after successive defeats by Dublin and Galway.

The Dubs, Mayo and Galway go into the weekend on six points with Tyrone just one behind the trio after regrouping from opening defeats by Kerry and Mayo to take five points from their last three games - helped by comfortable wins over Ulster rivals Monaghan and Cavan.

Division One

Division One
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On the subject of Monaghan and Cavan, if there is a loser in the derby at Clones, they will be in Division Two next year.

Cavan's struggle at the top table is no great surprise after they probably over-achieved last Spring but Monaghan's descent to the football of the division has been a major shock after they opened the campaign with a stirring victory over the Dubs.

What quite has gone wrong with Malachy O'Rourke's side since then is hard to gauge. Their performance against Tyrone in round three was particularly concerning as the Red Hands completely outplayed them with only a late scoring salvo putting any kind of respectability on the result as Mickey Harte's side won pulling up, 1-16 to 0-12.

Granted, the Farney men were much improved against Kerry last time out as the Kingdom only secured victory in the closing 10 minutes.

A repeat of their Killarney form should see Monaghan keeping alive their hopes of avoiding the drop - and consigning Cavan to Division Two in the process.

While there will be a lot of Ulster interest on the relegation battle, game of the day is probably the repeat of last year's All-Ireland Final as Dublin face a Tyrone seemingly rejuvenated following their slow start to the campaign.

It's difficult to back against the Dubs in Croke Park but Tyrone's most recent display suggest the outcome might be a lot closer than last September.

Division Two
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Meath and unbeaten Fermanagh lead the Division Two pack on eight points but both still have work to do to clinch promotion.

The Ernemen's credentials are likely to be severely tested on Saturday as Armagh host a rare home game in Crossmaglen.

However, the prize for an Erne win at Oliver Plunkett would be guaranteed promotion if Donegal fail to win in Cork.

Similarly, the expected Meath victory in Ennis will secure their ascent if Declan Bonner's side are unable to take both points at Pairc Un Rinn.

In truth, Meath have been the best side in the Division Two with their only defeat coming in decidedly unlucky fashion against Donegal in Ballybofey.

Even though, Meath and Fermanagh meet in the final round, Donegal surely must win in Cork to keep their promotion hopes alive.

And while the Rebels are bottom of the table, they did win at Semple Stadium in the last round - which was something Declan Bonner's side failed to do last month, in the result which ultimately may prove the result that derailed their campaign.

An Armagh victory in Crossmaglen could guarantee their Division Two status come Saturday evening but defeat could see them in the relegations spots by night's end.

Division Three
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As alluded to earlier, one of the stories of the league has been Down's resurgence under new boss Paddy Tally.

The Tyrone man certainly does appear to have added a badly-needed measure of defensive organisation to the Mourne squad and their eight points from five contests means they lead the Division Three table by one point from Westmeath.

After the opening second-half fade-out against Laois, Caolan Mooney's goal five minutes into injury-time saw Down snatching a 1-12 to 1-10 in Sligo and the Mournemen then rode their luck a little to edge out Westmeath 0-10 to 0-9 at Pairc Esler.

Donal O'Hare's hat-trick of goals then clinched a 3-7 to 0-8 win in Longford before they moved through the gears to comfortably account for Offaly in round five.

Turlough O'Brien's Carlow side are likely to represent a tougher test at Network Cullen Park given their noted defensive organisation - for which their coach Down native Steven Poacher has received both credit and opprobrium.

A Carlow victory would move them within a point of Down with one round left. Indeed six sides in Division Three remain in the promotion mix with Louth and Laois two points behind the Mournemen and Longford level with Carlow a further point adrift.

Division Four
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Division One
MonaghanvCavanClones - 14:00 GMT
GalwayvRoscommonSalthill - 15:30
DublinvTyroneCroke Park - 19:00
KerryvMayoTralee - 19:00
Division Two
ClarevMeathEnnis - 13:30
CorkvDonegalPairc Ui Rinn - 14:00
KildarevTipperaryNewbridge - 14:30
ArmaghvFermanaghCrossmaglen - 15:00
Division Three
LongfordvSligoPearse Park - 14:00
LouthvWestmeathDrogheda - 14:00
OffalyvLaoisTullamore - 14:00
CarlowvDownCullen Park - 15:00
Division Four
LondonvWaterfordRuislip - 12:30
AntrimvWicklowCorrigan Park - 14:00
WexfordvLimerickWexford Park - 15:00
DerryvLeitrimCeltic Park - 16:00

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