INPHO Clare, Cork, Derry and Dublin are all in Division 2 action.
Talking Points
Dublin and Derry favourites, Cork's next step and aim for new managers
The second tier action commences tomorrow.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 27th 2023, 12:00 PM

1. Will favourites Dublin and Derry dominate?

Dublin and Derry are rightfully favourites and it’s hard to see who could crack their expected grip on Division 2 of the Allianz football league.

Both managers, Dessie Farrell and Rory Gallagher, are heading into their fourth seasons so they know the lie of the land, what they have in their panel, and what they need from the league.

Derry’s 11-point total (+28 scoring difference) would’ve seen them promoted in 11 of the previous 13 seasons since the current structure was adopted in 2008. They would’ve topped the division in five of those years.

Even without Glen representatives in new captain Conor Glass and Ethan Doherty, due to their long club campaign, Derry have maintained their fearsome form, romping to a 3-11 to 1-5 McKenna Cup final victory over Tyrone.

Gallagher started 12 of the same team in all four of their McKenna Cup games, a remarkable statement of intent at a time of the year when most managers experiment widely. 

Dublin haven’t anything like the same form lines from their usual O’Byrne Cup trial games but they will be motivated to regain the top-tier status they so surprisingly lost last year for the first time since 2007.

2. How will Dublin fare on the road?

Fun fact: Dublin were beaten by six points on their last visit to Celtic Park, by three on their last excursion to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and by five on their last hop across the county bounds to Páirc Tailteann. By those metrics, is there an argument to be made that they hit potholes on their road trips when away from the comforts of Croke Park?

In short, no, but that’s not to say they won’t face trouble when travelling north and south this term.

The relevance is a stretch in those cases. The last time Dublin visited any of those venues was Celtic Park in March 2014 when they had yet to assume their cloak of unbeatability. The old Páirc Uí Chaoimh was still on its last legs when they most recently ventured there in 2012 and they were certainly nothing of their current force when losing the 2008 Division 2 League final to Westmeath in Navan.

Their players and core support will relish the variety of trips to venues like Cork, Derry, Navan, and, first up, Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds (where they needed a late Mossy Quinn point to win by one on their last spin Shannonside in 2007). For some panellists, they will have never played in any of those four venues. Their visits will bring plenty of local buzz and a sense of novelty to Division 2.

In the truncated 2021 League, Dublin had no home game owing to breaches of Covid restrictions and still went unbeaten, with three wins and a draw. While their 2022 League campaign was wretched by their own high standards (one win both at home and away), they had recovered enough form to go toe-to-toe with Kerry by the All-Ireland semi-final stage.

Cork, Derry, Meath, and Limerick will hope home advantage will have a role to play in downing the Dubs but they’ll need to meet their standards on the field first.

3. Who are the next best contenders?

Cork only avoided relegation back down to Division 3 in injury time on the final day of the 2022 league but they have found something of a groove this pre-season, even if their McGrath Cup final victory over Limerick could never quite live up to the five goals they put past an experimental Kerry outfit earlier this month.

With John Cleary, interim manager for the second half of 2022, taking over on a full-time basis, and Kevin Walsh added to the backroom team, they have fielded strong teams in those McGrath Cup tune-ups. They appear to already have something approaching a championship 15 bedding in, with Daniel O’Mahony returning for 2023 at full-back, Seán Powter causing trouble from centre-forward, and Colm O’Callaghan scoring 2-4 from midfield against Kerry.

It’s too early in the season to count for much but it shows Cork are ready to go full steam ahead for this league campaign.

They kept pace with Dublin for the first half of their All-Ireland quarter-final and the aim will be to keep reducing that gap. They’ll also want to land blows on Munster rivals Clare and Limerick, while further integrating more of their U20 and minor All-Ireland champions from 2019.

This year may be too soon for them but that gap back to 2016 since they last contested Division 1 feels closer to an end than at any point previously over the last seven years.

Kildare, relegated last spring, were consistent contenders prior to their 2021 promotion and, spearheaded by Jimmy Hyland, also hope to develop on their U20 All-Ireland win of 2018 and underage progress.

4. How will the new managers fare?

With four new managers in Division 1 and five new managers in Division 3, Division 2 appears relatively stable with two managerial changes, plus Cleary’s confirmation as full-time Cork boss.

Colm O’Rourke has set out his stall to attack at pace, kick the ball, and keep his forwards close to goal as Meath manager. It’s a style of football that will get its best chance as the weather improves after an O’Byrne Cup that featured victory over Carlow and draws against Laois and Longford where he road-tested a large number of debutants. The Páirc Uí Chaoimh pitch will provide a good January benchmark and the prospect of an entertaining opener against Cork on Sunday.

Ray Dempsey maximised his lessons from the McGrath Cup by reaching the final against Cork, where his team were well outmatched. Former Limerick U20 hurler Cathal Downes scored two goals on his debut against Waterford and he can be an addition to the improving team Dempsey has inherited from Billy Lee.

The league may well feel like their championship. It starts hot and heavy, Derry (away) followed by Dublin (home).

5. Which teams will fall into the Tailteann Cup trapdoor – and how many?

The two teams relegated from Division 2 will not contest the All-Ireland Championship unless they reach their provincial finals. But even consolidating your Division 2 status may not be enough to avoid the Tailteann Cup.

One of Leitrim, London, New York, or Sligo are set for a Sam Maguire berth owing to the lop-sided Connacht Championship draw and Westmeath are guaranteed another thanks to their 2022 Tailteann Cup success. That means any other Division 3 or 4 team that reaches a provincial final could knock the 6th- or 5th-placed Division 2 teams out of the All-Ireland Championship.

Such details won’t be known for another month after the league’s conclusion until the provincial semi-finals are played so a safety-first approach requires a top-half finish in Division 2.

Are newly promoted teams Limerick and Louth most at risk? Both had spells in Division 4 in the past three years, their promotions were something of a surprise and they’ll bid to prove people wrong again in 2023.

Colm Collins’ Clare are one of the most consistent teams in the League, entering into their seventh year as a Division 2 team, off the back of a second All-Ireland quarter-final appearance.

Collins, in his 10th season as manager, has again rejigged his backroom team to keep things fresh, with Down-native Mark Doran coming on board after guiding Ballybay to the Monaghan title. Doran previously worked alongside Paddy Tally with his home county.

Clare will fancy their chances to get the necessary wins to avoid trouble but equally, they’ll want to propel themselves higher than their recent 5th- and 6th-placed finishes to ensure their top-16 position.

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First published today at 07.00

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