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Colm Boyle

Former Mayo star Colm Boyle tips Ulster side for Division One glory

Twenty-seven weeks after we were mesmerised by Shane Walsh and David Clifford in the All-Ireland final, the Allianz League returns this weekend.

The split season isn’t perfect by any means, but it is the way forward. The club season needs its window from August onwards but, I must admit, that there were a couple of weekends in late summer when I was craving a big All-Ireland semi-final or final rather than an early round game from a random county championship.

The split season and new Championship format also has significant ramifications for the League, with 17 of the 32 counties in Championship action a week after the League finals.

Read more: Ulster says go - Allianz Football League team-by-team guide, predictions, fixtures and betting odds

Connacht Council secretary John Prenty made a proposal last year that League finals be scrapped and, having attended the Division One and Two final double header at Croke Park last April, I fully agree with him. League finals just aren’t a priority.

It’s a widely held opinion that the Leagues are the best structured competition in the GAA in terms of competitiveness and equality but for the eight teams in Division One it’s all about survival. Winning a Division One title has never been more irrelevant, which is a real shame.

That logic even applies to reigning League and All-Ireland Champions Kerry. The long season that several of their key players have endured, along with injuries to Gavin White, Paul Geaney, Shane Ryan and the recent retirement of Davis Moran, suggests it will be a very much weakened Kerry for the early stages of the League.

Former Mayo star Colm Boyle feels Tyrone could be best placed to clinch the Division One title this season (©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo)

The hammering they took from Cork in the McGrath Cup tells me that they are well behind in terms of their workload from this time last year.

Kevin McStay, on the other hand, will be very happy with his pre-season and will have a lot of his big guns available to him early on. The opening fixture against Galway is certainly a game both teams will target.

Galway are now deemed as the top team in Connacht and so McStay will want to land an early blow on Padraic Joyce’s men. Taking a wider view, his priority outside of avoiding relegation will be to develop replacements in the full-back line for Oisin Mullin and Lee Keegan.

Jack Coyne and David McBrien are two likely candidates, and he will need them to have good League campaigns. The return of Tommy Conroy and Ryan O’Donoghue to full fitness will be a timely boost to a forward line that was misfiring last year.

Can Roscommon stay up this time or will they remain the West Brom of inter-county football? This year might be as good as a chance as they have had to say up as Donegal and Monaghan look like two counties that are on the slide.

If there is to be a first Ulster winner of Division One since Derry in 2008 it is more than likely going to come from Tyrone or Armagh.

I think Tyrone may find their mojo again this year and, in a League where it’s nearly impossible to call a winner, it might even propel them to the title.

Division One winners: Tyrone.

Relegation: Donegal and Monaghan.

Divisions Two, Three and Four

WITH places in the Tailteann and Sam Maguire Cups at stake, Division Two and Three is where the real focus will be.

With last year’s Tailteann Cup winners, Westmeath, already guaranteed a place in the Sam Maguire and the lopsided nature of the Connacht championship draw, there is a possibility that the bottom four teams in Division Two will be playing in the second tier competition unless they get to a provincial final.

On paper the top two looks straightforward. Dublin’s relegation was a huge shock last year and if they did not go straight back up, it would be an even bigger one.

Derry manager Rory Gallagher (©INPHO/Tom Maher)

Rory Gallagher will certainly be looking for his Derry team to join them in Division One next year, even with the possibility of not having his Glen players available for the early rounds.

Are Cork finally on an upward curve? John Cleary will be delighted with the early season form and hammering Kerry in particular. While promotion will be their aim, a top four finish will still be seen as progress. Kildare also have promotion ambitions, but I think they will ultimately miss out.

The dreaded drop to Division Three looms over Clare, Louth, Limerick and Meath. The Royals will be expecting a bounce from new manager Colm O’Rourke but does he have the quality of player to extract that? Time will tell.

In Division Three, Westmeath and Cavan looked best equipped to take promotion although the early season form of both Down and Longford may throw a spanner in the works.

Division Two promotion: Dublin and Derry.

Relegation: Limerick and Louth.

Division Three promotion: Westmeath and Cavan.

Relegation: Tipperary and Antrim

Division Four promotion: Leitrim and Sligo.


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