Who needs what from the Allianz Football League?

Not since 2018 — when Dublin followed up a Division 1 title with the fourth All-Ireland SFC in a row —has the league/championship double been achieved.
Who needs what from the Allianz Football League?

]David Clifford lifts the cup after Kerry won the 2020 National League. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Not since 2018 — when Dublin followed up a Division 1 title with the fourth All-Ireland SFC in a row —has the league/championship double been achieved.

Notwithstanding the last two truncated leagues, the league’s potency as a harbinger for the championship is in need of a little repair. After all, from 2003 to ‘18, there were nine double champions.

Seeing as he has led Kerry to Division 1 and All-Ireland SFC titles in the first year of his two previous seasons in charge, Jack O’Connor will be looked on as the great hope to restore that link.

But just how important is the league for Kerry and the other All-Ireland contenders?

More than those who are fighting to join them in the Sam Maguire Cup later this year?

While Mickey Harte’s claim that only Division 1 teams need apply for All-Ireland SFC glory remains true, there will be more at stake for Division 2 and 3 teams as they look to avoid the Tailteann Cup, the bottom two in Division 2 losing their entry to the qualifier, unless they reach a provincial final, and the top pair in Division 3 gaining backdoor admission.

We evaluate the worth of the competition to all 32 competitors:

DIVISION 1

Armagh — Extremely Important.

After seven seasons in charge, Kieran McGeeney has finally guided Armagh to the top flight and something so hard-fought shouldn’t be surrendered easily. They need to start beating Ulster leading teams.

Donegal — Fairly important.

Declan Bonnar could be forgiven for focusing primarily on beating all three of their northern opponents seeing as they host them this spring and they haven’t come out of the province the last two seasons.

Dublin — Fairly important.

If only to reestablish their psychological edge over teams. Their hurt and hunger will go a long way in the weeks ahead but they need to find a few players at the same time, namely in defence.

Kerry — Slightly important.

Their campaign starts with a couple of crackers which will whet their appetites but it’s 13 years now since league success was repeated later in the year. Kerry will want to win games without making too many premature statements.

Kildare — Very Important.

Glenn Ryan has acknowledged he has received a good inheritance but often they have found the heat too hot in Division 1. Restoring Newbridge as a fortress is essential.

Mayo — Fairly important.

With more players basing themselves in the county, Mayo’s preparations shouldn’t be as fractured as it was in the pre-pandemic years. No home games means they will need to dig a bit more than usual.

Monaghan — Very Important.

The fixtures don’t fall all that well for them but they are used to relegation battles and more often than not they avoid the drop. They have to stay up and the panel has rarely been stronger.

Tyrone — Important.

It should mean more to them than it did last season but Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan will expect their charges to start hitting their stride in the middle and finish like a train.

DIVISION 2

Clare — Very important.

They can make life awkward for all seven other counties but it’s about consolidating status for Colm Collins and making sure they have a qualifier to fall back on this summer.

Cork — Fairly important.

The previous management signalled their objective was promotion but Keith Ricken won’t be heaping as much expectation on his men. It’s a question of securing safety early and working from there.

Derry — Extremely important.

Derry’s star is shooting and Rory Gallagher has major designs on Division 1, which would be the next stage in maturing this promising group of players. Anything less will be a disappointment.

Down — Very important.

James McCartan has several injuries to contend with and while he’s not working from scratch, being without the Kilcoo men means relegation is a clear and present danger which must be avoided.

Galway — Very important.

Pádraic Joyce mightn’t say it but he has been short of luck in his first two seasons in charge. There are no excuses now, though. Promotion will be demanded ahead of facing Mayo.

Meath — Very important.

Andy McEntee has never been afraid to highlight just how much Division 1 football means to Meath but they have lacked consistency. Should be in the shake-up for ascension, mind.

Offaly — Extremely important.

There is more at stake for Offaly in these next nine weekends than what follows thereafter. Maintain their Division 2 status and their Sam Maguire Cup existence will last longer than six days.

Roscommon — Fairly important.

The Anthony Cunningham era has by and large been decent for Roscommon and they know more than most the benefits of top flight matches. Will be in the promotion hunt.

DIVISION 3

Antrim — Very important.

A lot of positivity emerged from the camp in Enda McGinley’s first season. He will instil the belief in his players that they are good enough for Division 2 but they may need another year.

Fermanagh — Important.

They could be facing a period of transition, which could be well served by a Tailteann Cup campaign. No strangers to Division 2 but might not be ready for a return to it.

Laois — Fairly important.

Based on their O’Byrne Cup exploits, the signs are promising but if they are to grab a qualifier place they can’t be as Jeykll and Hyde as the last couple of seasons.

Limerick — Fairly important.

They will fancy themselves against Clare come May, although having the security of a backdoor game to fall back on instead of the Tailteann Cup would be a bonus. A few tough battles ahead.

Longford — Fairly important.

A new and energised management team might be able to bring Longford to the next stage but their appointment was later than others and the project is only in its infancy.

Louth — Very important.

Harte’s ambitions will have rubbed off on his players, a handful of who delivered their best seasons yet in a Louth jersey in 2021. He couldn’t but think of promotion.

Westmeath — Extremely important.

A group that will feel they belong in the Sam Maguire Cup but only promotion will prove they do. One of the teams who you feel wouldn’t be all that interested in a Tailteann Cup run.

Wicklow — Important.

Their promotion was a turn-up for the books and for all the promise of their underage talent, they will want to be competitive in slightly stronger company.

DIVISION 4

Carlow — Fairly important.

Niall Carew enters season three as manager, or his second full season, and having initially been excited by the county’s potential will be expected to fulfil some of it in 2022.

Cavan — Extremely important.

That Radiohead lyric “I don’t belong here” should be playing over and over in their heads. Nothing more than a quick jump from this low rung will be acceptable.

Leitrim — Fairly important.

Antrim and Louth had new manager bounces last season but Andy Moran will need time to work with this group.

London — Important.

Seeing as they haven’t played league football since early 2020, competitive fare will feel novel and delightful for The Exiles.

Sligo — Fairly important.

Expect to see a bit of flair from what could be the dark horses of this division. Tony McEntee knows his team lacks experience but their attack is promising.

Tipperary — Extremely important.

Management and players spoke of the importance of building on their 2020 Munster success. A second season in Division 4 next year would be a major blow.

Waterford — Slightly important.

The Déise have not benefited from a considerable turnover of managers and Ephie Fitzgerald has to be afforded patience.

Wexford — Very important.

There were a few indications in last year’s championship Wexford football may be on the road to recovery. Promotion challengers.

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