Our seventh and final match in this year’s NFL Division One campaign takes place this coming Sunday at MacHale Park. Donegal are the visitors for this one, Cormac Reilly has the whistle for it and the match throws in at Castlebar at 2pm.
Everyone, I’m sure, knows the permutations from our point of view at this stage. With Roscommon already relegated, the last place in the ejector seat is set to be filled by either ourselves or Cavan. Kerry, while not yet mathematically safe either, are way ahead of both ourselves and Cavan (in that order) on points difference. Seeing as it’s only on this metric that they could take the hop we can assume that they’re assured of their Division One place for 2018.
A Kerry loss – they’re at home to Tyrone, by the way – would effectively guarantee our survival and this is true even if we lose and Cavan win. In the resultant three-way tie, Kerry (currently on a points difference of +6) would most likely be saved first, followed by us (-5). Cavan are currently on a points difference of -20, so they’re unlikely to be able to overhaul us, unless we get beaten decisively and they thump the Rossies.
Taking the Kerrymen out of the equation, we go into Sunday two points better off than the Breffni County so, regardless of how they do against Roscommon at Hyde Park, a win for us or a draw will be enough for us to stay up. Even if we lose we’ll keep our top tier status, providing Cavan don’t win and Kerry neither win nor draw. But if we lose, the Breffni lads win and Kerry get at least a draw then our long tenure in Division One will be at an end, as Cavan have us on the head-to-head rule.
It’s worth laying out the permutations from Donegal’s point of view as well. They got into Sunday in second spot – and so in pole position to contest the Division One final – and a win over us would guarantee them an outing in Croke Park on Sunday week. Monaghan, who share second spot on eight points with Donegal but lie behind them on points difference, can make the final too, but only if they beat the Harlem Globe Trotters at Clones.
That’s a prize worth going for, by the way, as a win for the Farneymen there not only would end Dublin’s unbeaten run it’d also deny them a place in the final. Depending on how our match goes, that final would then be between Monaghan and one of Donegal, Tyrone or even Kerry.
But back to Donegal. Rory Gallagher’s refashioned team have been a revelation this spring – I for one certainly didn’t expect them to prosper following that raft of retirements that were announced over the winter – and they’ve lost just once this spring. That was in Round 1 at home to Kerry when all those new faces, many of whom also feature on this year’s U21 team, were still only finding their feet. They’ve gone from strength to strength since then – winning three times and drawing twice – and they come to Castlebar secure in the knowledge that their 2017 League campaign can already be chalked down as a success.
Their working assumption coming into their game with us will, no doubt, be that the Dubs will do the needful in St Tiernach’s Park. Will they fancy a crack at the swaggering Metropolitans at HQ the following Sunday? Or would they prefer to dodge the ritual flailing that has been the lot of Dublin’s League final opponents in recent years?
None of us know the answer to those questions. I guess it won’t be until half-time on Sunday – by which point the course of events in Clones will at least have begun to become clear – that we’ll know too how much appetite Donegal might have for contesting the League final.
In any event, this idle speculation isn’t all that relevant from our perspective. Regardless of what mental state the opposition are in and how much they really want to get something from the fixture, the bottom line for us is that to ensure our Division One safety we need to get a result. Our mindset going into the game must – as I’m sure it will – be aimed squarely at achieving this objective.
The other thing we need to bear in mind is that Donegal and ourselves have developed a healthy dislike for each other in recent years. Last year’s meeting in Ballybofey was a bad-tempered affair and, new faces or not, we can expect them to roll out the usual Alpha Male he-man shiteology tactics that seem to be the norm for all Ulster counties these days.
The last time we played them in MacHale Park was in the final round of the 2015 League. We went into that game as well with the threat of relegation – and the chance of making the play-offs – hanging over us but the permutations then weren’t as clear as they are on this occasion. As things turned out that day, our result – a draw – had no bearing on our retaining top tier status, as Kerry’s win over Tyrone sent the Red Hands through the trapdoor. Our failure to win that game did, though, deny us a place in the semi-finals that year.
In terms of personnel for Sunday, we look to be in a decent position right now. Chris Barrett and Aidan O’Shea both slotted back in at Omagh last Sunday and the Mayo News has reported since (here) that long-term absentees Seamus O’Shea and Ger Cafferkey are both likely to be available for selection on Sunday. Donal Vaughan and Cillian O’Connor, who both suffered head injuries against Tyrone, are also both expected to be fit to play.
The picture on the Donegal side of the fence isn’t as bright. The Donegal Democrat reports (here) that Ryan McHugh will miss the game, as he picked up an ankle injury against Monaghan. Mind you, Karl Lacey is set to replace him so they’re not that badly off.
The bookies reckon we’re safe enough this weekend. Cavan are 1/8 with Paddy Power for the drop whereas we’re on offer at a sporting 11/2 (odds here). Their rationale for those odds is that, while they reckon Cavan (priced at 4/7) will beat the Rossies, we’ve been installed as clear 8/15 favourites to do the business over Donegal.
What do you reckon: how do you think Sunday’s meeting with Donegal will go for us?
How will we do against Donegal?
- Win (58%, 254 Votes)
- Draw (25%, 108 Votes)
- Lose (17%, 73 Votes)
Total Voters: 435