tough call | 

Predicting the Allianz Football league has been no easy task

Sean McGoldrick looks back on his GAA tips

Will Kerry's Tom O'Sullivan be handed the task of curbing Galway's Shane Walsh again during this weekend's National League clash in Salthill Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

Back in the halcyon days of the Irish Press the racing correspondent had the perfect put down response when the GAA writers moaned about his wayward tips for the Grand National.

“Youse can’t a get a winner in the two-horse race.”

Really, there was no comeback.

Anyway, in this era of transparency and accountability, I looked back on the files of the Sunday World to see how my tips in the Allianz Football league turned out.

Mixed form might be the most charitable way to describe them.

On the plus side I tipped Galway to reach the Division 1 final.

I also predicted Dublin and Derry would reach the Division 2 final though one didn’t have to be a visionary to forecast the reigning Leinster and Ulster champions would be the top sides.

In Division 3 I went for Cavan (again a safe choice) and suggested Sligo would be the county to emerge from Division 4.

My most inspired prediction was that Laois would struggle to justify their tag of favourites in Division 4.

Monaghan obliged me by finishing sixth in Division 1 as I had predicted, and I also suggested Donegal would struggle to stay up.

But I got it badly wrong with Roscommon.

Though they had been relegated on four occasions in the past and only managed to stay in the top-flight for consecutive seasons on one occasion they finished third in Division 1.

Indeed, had Seanie O’Shea scored a last-gasp goal for Kerry against Galway in Salthill last Sunday Roscommon would have made the league final based on their superior scoring difference over Galway, Kerry and Tyrone.

Louth also made a mockery of my prediction that they would be relegated after one season in Division 2.

But other than Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin I doubt if too many believed that not alone would they survive in the second tier, they would finish third ahead of Cork, Kildare and Meath.

Division 3 was a mine-field for the forecasters.

I tipped Tailteann Cup winners Westmeath to be promoted along with Cavan and suggested Offaly would be relegated with Fermanagh finishing in the bottom half of the table.

Longford and Tipperary ended up being relegated while Fermanagh were promoted, and Offaly were in the hunt until the last day.

Finally I didn’t foresee Wicklow being in the hunt in Division 4.

Mind you after collecting one point in the opening two rounds they looked set to finish in the bottom half.

But they secured nine out of their possible next ten league points, which was sufficient to give them a place in Division 3 next season as they had beaten Laois in their head-to-head contest.

What is relevant now is whether what happened in the league will impact on the championship.

Evidence suggests momentum is king in team sport.

With the provincial championships starting next weekend counties who struggled in the league have little time to get their house in order.

Armagh, for example, will be wary of their preliminary round Ulster tie against Antrim on Saturday week despite home advantage.

Kieran McGeeney’s side are coming off the back of losses to Kerry, Galway and Tyrone in the last rounds of the league. They did beat Donegal after a late scare in round five but ended up being relegated.

Though they ought to have too much firepower for Antrim, whose only notable achievement in the league was a home win over Cavan, there will be a lot of nervous tension around the Box It Athletic Grounds on Easter Saturday.

It is doubtful, however, if the momentum garnered during the league will sustain counties for the entire championship.

The new round robin format in the Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cup begins on May 20-21.

Each county is guaranteed three games: one home, one away and one at a neutral venue.

In the Sam Maguire series 24 group matches will be played but only four counties – the bottom team in each group will be eliminated.

So, virtually every game matters and counties have an opportunity to string three wins together in quick succession.

One of the appealing features of the back door system was the capacity of teams to generate momentum by stringing together a couple of wins.

It will be more difficult for the weaker teams in the Sam Maguire series to do this because they will face one provincial winner and one provincial runner-up in their group matches.

What will be interesting is whether any Division 2 teams make it through to the last eight in the All-Ireland series. The odds are stacked against them.

Still, watching how the new look championship unfolds will be fascinating.

And we will have another stab at forecasting the outcomes. Picking three qualifiers from groups of four. What could possibly go wrong?

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