26 Sept 2022

Joe Carroll: The National League fields are beginning to take shape

Joe Carroll: The National League fields are beginning to take shape

In form Armagh attacker Rian O'Neill. (Pic; Sportsfile)

At the time of writing the first two furlongs have been covered in the four 7-furlong National Football League races. Already some of the runners are being hard-held, a few of these fighting for their head wanting to get on with it, while others are in rear, coming under the cosh.

That’s racetrack-speak for, the leaders are wanting to make every post a winning one, but in some cases are coming under restraint. At the other end of the field some runners are feeling the pressure, trying to make up the ground they’ve lost.

Armagh have been the story of Division One so far, winning each of their matches against serious challengers, the All-Ireland champions of the past two years. Kerry’s David Clifford has shown that he has clearly wintered well; but another No 14, the Applemen’s Rian O’Neill, has also been fast out of the gates.

If both maintain their current form, the All-Star selectors will have no problem filling the full-forward berth and may have to look elsewhere to accommodate whichever of this duo doesn’t get the 14 jersey.

Dublin’s uncharacteristic slow start has the obituary-writers sharpening their pencils. Beaten by Armagh first time out, Dessie Farrell’s men were then routed under a very heavy Tralee sky. Next up are Mayo, who were there when the Dubs went off the rails last August.

Derry are maintaining their fine form of early last year in Division Two, successful in each of their games. keeping company with Galway and Roscommon. Meath, like Down, are struggling, and the meeting of these two at Navan on Sunday could determine which of them will be looking over their shoulder for the remainder of the competition.

Three is Louth’s division and the going hasn’t been great for Mickey Harte’s troops so far. One point from a possible four is not league-winning form, and it goes without saying there’ll have to be a result or two soon. Otherwise, the race’s final few furlongs could have the jockey in the red colours flailing his whip to avoid finishing among the backmarkers.

There’s a trip to Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds on Sunday for Louth and this is what you could call a 24-carat test. If a team wants to play open, attacking football this is the place to be.

There are no nooks or crannies in the Gaelic Grounds, just wide-open spaces where forward foot-passing can yield greater rewards than the play-safe handpass. Limerick have been making the early running, sharing top spot with Westmeath and will be a severe test.

The bookies were offering odds on Cavan going through Division Four unbeaten. Anyone who took them would have no reason to tear up their docket. But the Ulster champions of a couple of years ago are not what it’s all been about so far.

Step up London, who, until this campaign, were a banker bet for all who came up against them. But things are happening in Ruislip this year. Carlow were ousted in the opening round, and on the weekend before last, Waterford came a cropper at McGovern Park.

Arlene Foster, at the time Northern Ireland’s First Minister, went along to see her native Fermanagh in an Ulster final a few years ago and got a great reception.

Could you image former London Lord Mayor, Boris Johnston, or maybe the present occupant of the Mansion House, Vincent Keaveney (any relation of Jimmy’s?) doing the same if sport’s other Dons were set to play in the Division Four final? Me neither.  

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