Gaelic GamesDivision Two, Three and Four Previews

Armagh could edge past Donegal to deliver win Kieran McGeeney craves

Down’s fortunes likely to improve against Westmeath

Allianz Football League Division Two final: Armagh v Donegal, Croke Park, Sunday, 1.45pm (Live on TG4)

Few managers get everything they want from the Allianz Football League, most just get what they need. Jim McGuinness, however, may already have satisfied plenty of want and need, guiding Donegal back to Division One with a game to spare thanks to their penultimate round win over Kildare – sending their opponents in the opposite direction in the process.

Describing that as a “very large box ticked”, the first quest in his second coming as Donegal manager, McGuinness has also pointed towards the tricky scheduling of this final, given they play in the Ulster Championships three weeks later against Derry (who face a similar task given they contest the Division One final).

After topping the group unbeaten, Donegal have clearly been growing in confidence, nine players scoring in their six-point win over Kildare. Although Ryan McHugh and Paddy McBrearty will probably miss out on this because of injuries sustained against Meath last Sunday, there should be ample cover on that front too, with Peadar Mogan, Oisín Gallen and Daire O’Baoill also in fine form.

Michael Langan kicked three points from midfield against Kildare, and Mogan hit five from half back, although they won’t enjoy that sort of freedom against Armagh.


When the teams drew in last month’s round four clash in Armagh (Armagh 1-9 Donegal 0-12) Rian O’Neill’s first return to action this season looked to have provided the winning score, only for Shane O’Donnell to level the game for the fifth time.

There’s no denying Kieran McGeeney has ample want and need to win this one; first appointed to the role in August 2014, he’s now the longest serving intercounty manager of the same team, still seeking that so-called big-time victory, in league or championship.

Armagh’s recent experiences in Croke Park may stand to them, and like Donegal they’ve been producing a good spread of scorers, namely Andrew Murnin, Conor O’Neill, Rory Grugan, Aidan Forker and Jarly Óg Burns.

Momentum shifted back and forth that last day; the biggest gap was four points, and that lasted roughly 60 seconds. Armagh possibly showed a little more guile in front of goal, which Croke Park should better facilitate.

It was all high-spirited handshakes and roguish smiles between McGuinness and McGeeney at the end of that last one, both knowing there were far bigger days to come. Ultimately, Armagh’s greater goal threat, and perhaps simple desire to win this, should help McGeeney’s team land that bit of silverware he so badly wants and needs. Verdict: Armagh

Allianz Football League Division Three final: Down v Westmeath, Croke Park, Saturday, 5pm (Live on TG4)

It’s impossible not to feel sympathy for both teams here. After all their efforts to secure promotion to Division Two, spurred on by the hope it would also mean contesting the Sam Maguire round-robin this summer and not the Tailteann Cup, they’re now set to be left in limbo.

Win or lose, there’s no guarantee they’ll get one of those 16 places, given Clare, who ended up third, look to have an easy route to the Munster football final (which would guarantee them a spot, rather than compete in the Tailteann Cup, despite the fact they lost to Down in the last round proper).

Conor Laverty’s Down team have been displaying great consistency; with six wins and one draw, they’re clearly a team in progress. The Tailteann Cup would be no great reward for that, and while Connacht Council chief executive John Prenty did indicate this week that in future the Division Three champions should also be guaranteed Sam Maguire, that won’t be happening this year.

For Westmeath and Dessie Dolan, another game in Croke Park isn’t ideal, given they’re out a week later in the Leinster Championships against Wicklow. While the incentive and indeed sympathy may be even for both teams, Down appear marginally better equipped right now to seal the win. Verdict: Down

Allianz Football League Division Four final: Laois v Leitrim, Croke Park, Saturday 5.0 (Live on TG4)

The teams emerged from the division with the most exciting denouement in the league.

It has been a great campaign for Andy Moran’s team, who also defeated this weekend’s opponents along the way – for the second year running. It is five years since Leitrim were last promoted. whereas Laois, who stumbled in the run-in last year, have secured their rise this time despite losing to Saturday afternoon’s opponents just two weeks ago.

That verdict was so tight that Laois actually led in injury-time before Leitrim found two points to turn the tables.

The performance was driven by Ryan O’Rourke with 0-6 from play although Barry McNulty scored the winner – Leitrim shooting six of the last seven points.

Laois are an experienced crew, however, captained by Evan O’Carroll with Paul Kingston beside him, while goalkeeper Killian Roche has been outstanding for Justin McNulty’s team this campaign.

Although there is logic behind Leitrim’s confidence, the feeling here is that they played to a very high level in Portlaoise and that some of the nerves evident against Tipp might return to haunt them, whereas Laois will be forewarned. Verdict: Laois

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics