Only half a dozen counties head into the Allianz Football League final round with no promotion or relegation in mind.
For the rest, whether it’s Dublin looking to add a final chapter to their own version of The Great Escape, Cork’s desperate attempt to avoid falling through the Tailteann Cup trap door, or Mickey Harte’s quest for promotions straight with Louth, it will all come to the final round of championship games Sunday afternoon.
Well, almost. Tipperary could earn promotion from the Division 4 into the spotlight on Saturday night, but for everyone else it will be an intrigue-laden Sunday afternoon.
Kerry: One of three teams from all four divisions not to have suffered a defeat after six rounds of matches. Beating Armagh last Sunday secured the Kingdom’s last place so, if Jack O’Connor is feeling daring, he could afford to experiment for the All Ireland holders Tyrone’s visit to Killarney.
mayo: Back-to-back losses in Rounds 5 and 6 dashed Mayo’s hopes of a final berth. However, they still have one last chance and the 2019 champions will come down to the decider if they beat Kildare. It doesn’t help that this game is being played in a neutral Carrick-on-Shannon.
Armagh: In private, Kieran McGeeney will be delighted that relegation isn’t an issue before Round 7. In public, he will implore his players to push for a final berth. If they beat Donegal in a Championship dress rehearsal at Letterkenny, and if Mayo do not beat Kildare, then Armagh are through.
Kildare: Moving from fourth to second to earn an unlikely final spot isn’t impossible, especially with their decent score difference. Likewise, relegation is not off the table although the in-form Lilywhites are set to lose to Mayo while Donegal, Tyrone and Monaghan or Dublin are also set to win.
Donegal: Three defeats in their last four games is a form of relegation, but if Declan Bonner’s side beat Armagh they will stay in Division One. If the stars were to line up, a third win of the campaign could even sneak them through to a final although that’s highly unlikely. Losing to Letterkenny then relegation becomes a possibility.
tyron: Following their All-Ireland triumph with relegation isn’t worth thinking about – but it could happen. A loss to Kerry, coupled with a win in Dublin or Monaghan below them, could take Tyrone to Division 2. That leaves the Red Hands at least with a fairly simple mindset – beat Kerry in Killarney to be sure. to remain standing.
Dublin: The great breakaway which seemed difficult after four rounds is now well underway. Beating Tyrone and Donegal gave Dublin a fighting chance. Whoever loses between them and Monaghan in Clones will be permanently relegated. But winners have a good chance of sticking around, provided outcomes elsewhere don’t conspire against them.
monaghan: The clones will surely be part of the visit to Dublin. To stay up, Monaghan must win and hope Tyrone, Donegal and Kildare above them don’t all win as well. Two crucial points would probably do the trick for Monaghan, although their heavy loss to Kildare last weekend didn’t bode well.
Galway: One of the few teams not to play anything this weekend. Beating Derry so impressively, Galway’s sixth win on the spin, earned them a promotion. They could experiment against Roscommon, but it could also open the door for their provincial rivals to gain promotion, which means another encounter in the Division Two final.
Roscommun: Roscommon could potentially lose to Galway at Dr Hyde Park and finish second, if third-placed Derry slips elsewhere against Meath. Anthony Cunningham is much more likely to demand his players shoot for the win that would secure their return to Division One, top spot in the table and a final Division Two berth.
derry: Everything was looking so good for Derry until they met Roscommon in Round 5, drawing and losing their first points of the campaign. Then they were hammered by Galway to Owenbeg. The 2019 Division Four champions can still qualify for Division One but must beat Meath and hope to lose Roscommon.
Meath: Stuttering and stumbling initially, the ascendant mobile Royals are now unbeaten in four games and are coming off back-to-back wins. They are out of the promotion picture but have also left relegation issues in their rear view mirror. A victory over Derry at Navan could ruin the visitors’ promotion hopes.
Claire: The Banner’s league campaign is about to fade with barely a hint of excitement. Promotion is impossible and, despite three consecutive defeats, relegation is only a mathematical possibility at this stage. They’ll want to sign off with a win over Down to boost morale.
Cork: Cork’s gloom was lifted by their weekend win over Down and if they beat Offaly, in what is a relegation decider, they will somehow stay put. Even a draw would do for the Rebels who could potentially retain their status despite only winning in seven outings.
Offali: Only one victory will be enough for the men of John Maughan. The stakes couldn’t be higher because while survival is the prize for winners at Tullamore, Offaly risks being demoted to Division Three and the Tailteann Cup in front of his home fans. Good luck trying to boost morale for the championship if this scenario occurs.
Down: The good vibes surrounding James McCartan’s return to the hot seat have likely dissipated at this point. Five out of six defeats have already resulted in relegation and the likelihood of Tailteann Cup football. Beating Clare in Newry would at least boost morale and Down could definitely do with that.
In summary, if Louth and Limerick each claim what would be their fifth win of the campaign, they will be saying hello to Division Two and goodbye to the prospect of Tailteann Cup football.
In Louth’s case, that would be a remarkable achievement considering Mickey Harte inherited a Division Four team just 16 months ago. They travel to play struggling Wicklow while Limerick are at home against a Fermanagh side who look destined for a mid-table finish.
Antrim and Westmeath meet in Belfast and the winners of that match, with favorable results elsewhere, could advance to a promotion position if things go well. Downstairs, two from Laois, Wicklow and Longford will be relegated.
Tipperary’s game against London is Saturday’s only encounter and a home win under the lights of Semple Stadium would secure promotion for David Power’s side. It would also have the effect of promoting Cavan even before they played bottom Waterford on Sunday.
In truth, Cavan, top of the table with 10 points, is as good as promoted but it is possible that if Tipp were to draw with London, and if Sligo or Leitrim win on Sunday, then three different teams could find themselves locked out of 10. points on Sunday.
It’s more likely, of course, that Tipp takes the win against London at home and gives the rest of Division Four games on Sunday a slightly underwhelming feel.