Divisions 2 and 3 of the Allianz Football League have come to resemble the M50 at rush hour. Four rounds in and counties remain bumper to bumper. And while the odd bit of overtaking is possible, nobody, save for unbeaten Cork who are more runaway train than top of the traffic pile-up, is managing to speed up or even move swiftly into the distance.
Counties play their fifth-round games this weekend but while the league is now at an advanced stage, the permutations are far from clear-cut. Given how tightly packed both divisions are, promotion and relegation — and more importantly who moves in and out of the Tier 2 catchment area — will not be known until the concluding afternoon of action of March 22.
Below is what each county must negotiate on the remainder of their journey.
Cavan (6 points, +4) A win at home tomorrow against bottom-placed Clare puts them in pole position for promotion. Given their run-in also includes fellow strugglers Kildare, Cavan will fancy their chances of securing a return to Division 1.
Remaining games: Clare (h), Kildare (a), Roscommon (h).
Armagh (5 points, +13) Two of their remaining games are against relegation-threatened sides, but both are away, which means nothing is straightforward in terms of holding on to a top-two spot.
Remaining games: Fermanagh (a), Roscommon (h), Clare (a).
Roscommon (5 points, +10) Whoever ends up coming off second-best between themselves and Westmeath tomorrow will exit the promotion race. And even if Anthony Cunningham’s charges do record a third consecutive win this weekend, they will still be up against it to secure a top-two finish as they must navigate back-to-back fixtures in Ulster.
Remaining games: Westmeath (h), Armagh (a), Cavan (a).
Westmeath (5 points, -1) Looking up and down. Will want to put at least another point on the board to safeguard their Division 2 status and escape potential Tier 2 inclusion.
Remaining games: Roscommon (a), Laois (h), Kildare (a).
Laois (5 points, -3) Though no county can be said to enjoy a favourable run-in, Laois will not meet any county currently occupying a top-three place between now and March 22. Indeed, it could be the case that Fermanagh are relegated by the time the Midlanders reach Enniskillen for Round 7.
Remaining games: Kildare (h), Westmeath (a), Fermanagh (a).
Kildare (2 points, -7) Should Kildare leave O’Moore Park empty-handed this evening, it is next to impossible to see the Lilywhites steering themselves to safety.
Remaining games: Laois (a), Cavan (h), Westmeath (h).
Fermanagh (2 points, -8) Back-to-back defeats will have dented confidence. Two home games still to come is a help. Their Round 6 visit to Ennis will decide their fate.
Remaining games: Armagh (h), Clare (a), Laois (h).
Clare (2 points, -8) Have a job on their hands to extend their stay in Division 2 to a fifth season. Will need to take points from at least two of their remaining three games, the first of which is an away trip to table-toppers Cavan. Finishing with two home fixtures is of some comfort.
Remaining games: Cavan (a), Fermanagh (h), Armagh (h).
Cork (8 points, +22) One victory between now and March 22 will see them make a swift return to Division 2. The safest bet looks to be their home fixture against Louth next weekend.
Remaining games: Derry (h), Louth (h), Longford (a).
Longford (5 points, +9) It’s essential Longford maintain their 100% home record tomorrow, as if they lose to Tipperary, Padraic Davis’ side then need to take maximum points off Derry and Cork if they are to remain in the hunt for the second spot.
Remaining games: Tipperary (h), Derry (a), Cork (h).
Derry (5 points, +7) After a slow start, Rory Gallagher’s charges have propelled themselves into promotion contention following successive victories in Rounds 3 and 4. But such has been Cork’s form of late, they’ll do well to take anything from their travels south this weekend. Derry could also lose out on second place because of their head-to-head record against Down — the latter won their Round 2 clash.
Remaining games: Cork (a), Longford (h), Offaly (a).
Offaly (5 points, +4) Unbeaten since the opening round, but they must now face an onerous run-in. One crumb of comfort is that tomorrow’s guests, Down, have not won on the road this spring. Will do well to hold onto their place in the top half of the table.
Remaining games: Down (h), Tipperary (a), Derry (h).
Down (5 points, -1) Although they currently lie in fifth as a result of their negative score difference, Down, of all the counties clamouring to join Cork in ascending to Division 2, look to have the most favourable schedule of remaining games.
Remaining games: Offaly (a), Leitrim (h), Louth (a).
Tipperary (3 points, -5) Promotion aspirations have all but dissipated. Indeed, should they fail to win away at Longford tomorrow, they’ll be looking down, rather than up, for the remainder of the campaign.
Remaining games: Longford (a), Offaly (h), Leitrim (a).
Leitrim (1 point, -25) Have failed to put points on the board since their opening-round draw with Derry. A quick return to Division 4 beckons should they fail to beat Louth this weekend.
Remaining games: Louth (a), Down (a), Tipperary (h).
Louth (0 points, -11) Lost cause. Even allowing for a win tomorrow, they’ll not take the necessary points off Cork and Down to reach a figure which would ensure safety.
Remaining games: Leitrim (h), Cork (a), Down (h).