Defeats for Tyrone, Monaghan and Kildare bring relegation battles into focus

No room for error heading into the last two rounds of games in the top divisions of Allianz Football League

Wheat-from-chaff time across the football leagues. With a fortnight’s break to the last two rounds of games, this was the weekend that decided whether teams spend the rest of the month looking up or down. Usual suspects are bedding down in both camps.

Defeats for Tyrone in Killarney and Monaghan in Clones on Sunday have crystallised the relegation battle at the bottom of Division One somewhat. Tyrone were comprehensively outplayed by Kerry in Fitzgerald Stadium, going down to a 0-18 to 1-11 defeat at the hands of Jack O’Connor’s side. A faultless scoring return from David Clifford — eight points from eight shots — condemned the visitors to their third defeat of the campaign.

It means that the upcoming fixture against Monaghan in Omagh is going to put a pretty fine point on matters. Tyrone can’t really afford to lose it and defeat for Monaghan would finally relegate them to Division Two. On Sunday, Vinny Corey’s side went down to their fourth heavy defeat in a row, losing at home to Galway by 3-12 to 0-14.

“It is a complete scrap,” said Tyrone selector Collie Holmes of the upcoming few weeks. “Monaghan are looking at us and we are looking at them and sizing each other up. And whoever comes out leaves themselves with a handier last game.


“So it’s all down to it with two games to go. But I’m glad it’s two weeks away because we have time to get up the road, get ourselves settled and pick out the bones when we go through that. There was some good stuff in it, some really good stuff. And obviously stuff we need to tidy up.”

Chief among those things for Tyrone will be their shooting after a display in which they missed 14 scoring chances out of 26. Their day was pretty much summed up by the fact that Darragh Canavan, Niall Morgan and Darren McCurry all missed frees for them before half-time. If Tyrone can’t count on that trio to find the posts unchallenged, chances are they’re in for a long afternoon.

And so it proved, as Kerry responded to last week’s torching by Dublin with extreme prejudice. Defeat to Dublin in the league will happen here and there. Getting schooled by them is never acceptable. Jack O’Connor didn’t hesitate when he was asked if there had been a bite to training all week.

“There was,” he said. “And it was needed. Because sometimes you can have all the tactics in the world but a lot of times it just comes down to attitude. If your attitude and your mindset isn’t right, everything else goes out the window. I was glad that was pretty right today, by and large.”

At the bottom, Pádraic Joyce was delighted to get out of Clones with the points. Three first-half goals set Galway on their way against Monaghan, despite not really hitting the heights the way he wanted.

“We looked lifeless at times and there was no real urgency in our game,” said Joyce. “Poor turnovers — not even turnovers as such, they were individual errors is what I’d call them. You don’t mind fellas giving the ball away once you are doing the right thing. Then we just put a long ball into the square and got a goal out of it and then another one and another goal before half-time. To go in at half-time six points up and not playing well was a huge bonus for us.”

In Division Two, Donegal and Armagh continued their unbeaten starts to 2024 and edged that bit closer to a return to the top flight. Donegal’s 1-17 to 0-15 home win over Louth kept them top of the shop – but only on points scored, as Armagh stayed close with a 0-15 to 0-11 win over Fermanagh. The key game from here on out will be Armagh’s home fixture against Cavan on March 16th — victory for Kieran McGeeney’s side there will guarantee promotion and leave Donegal needing only a draw against Kildare to go up along with them.

That ought not to be a problem, as Kildare slumped to their fifth defeat from five in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Despite being five points ahead midway through the first half and still leading by a point at half-time, Glenn Ryan’s side were roundly outplayed by Cork the rest of the way, eventually going down to a 2-15 to 3-9 defeat.

“I suppose the goal before half-time sucked the life out of us to a degree,” Ryan said afterwards. “It shouldn’t have because we were still in a good position. But after working so hard to be in a good position, probably a point up at half-time wasn’t a reflection of how we were going.

“It was disappointing from our end but still we had an awful lot to fight for. It’s just very disappointing when they worked so hard to put themselves in that position for the first 10 minutes [of the second half]. That fight just didn’t seem to be there to really go and regain it I suppose.”

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times