Gerard O'Kane

GERARD O’KANE: Mayo have the depth for Sam

In my last column four weeks ago, I remarked how the upcoming National League games at that time could be compared to ‘moving day’ in the golf majors.

Since that weekend there has been another two rounds of the National League with another one left. As it stands now, there is still plenty to play for in each division.

Mayo have been the pace-setters in the top division and as each week moves forward there has been an improvement week-on-week. They have a tremendous strength in depth and Kevin McStay’s predecessor can take a fair amount of the credit for that.

There is a good handful of players who have been around for two or three seasons now who are stepping up to the plate and it has given McStay a strong hand to play as he moves forward into a league final and a with a tough championship run in Connacht around the corner, this is ideal preparation for a side who have provided some great entertainment for the country over the years.

The idea of getting six-plus weeks beyond the league to taper down for the championship and to go again is out the window with the condensed season. Games will be coming thick and fast so any squad with lofty ambitions of making it into the back end of the season needs to have a squad filled with players who can step up to the plate as and when required, and on the evidence of the league it looks as though Mayo have this.

At the other end of the division, it looks as though the Ulster teams still in contention for relegation will find difficult to avoid the drop into Division Two.

Donegal have been hampered by the absence of key figures all the way through the league so it’s hard to judge where they are actually at. Until they get their first 15 onto the field and fit, talk of their demise might be a bit premature.

Heading to Newry in a few weeks will be a good test for them in terms of getting over the line in a game where, from the outside, they really should.

Tyrone seem to have turned a bit of a corner with back-to-back victories over Kerry and Monaghan they should have enough to see out their safety in the top flight so it’s down to Monaghan and Armagh for the second spot.

Monaghan have been the experts in last-day survival over the last few seasons so a similar outcome should not be much of a surprise if it turns out that way on Sunday afternoon.

I think if Armagh to drop out of the top flight it would have more of a detrimental effect on their long-term goals. Armagh have made no secret of the fact that playing top tier football is where they strive to be and put so much emphasis into getting their so to fall out of this bracket after a few seasons would be a disappointment given the energy they put into getting there.

While it is entirely in their own hands, Tyrone, their neighbours, might take great delight in sending Armagh to Division Two.

It certainly won’t be a case of Tyrone seeing the game as dead-rubber.

I have more of a vested interest in Division Two due to Derry being there (for the time being anyway).

I have watched Derry live a number of times this year and the other games in TV and its certainly not a case of resting on their laurels from last year. Derry have kicked on a gear and are the only team out of the four divisions to have six victories from six.

They also have the highest scoring difference across the four divisions by a good distance, only confirming that Derry are a Division One team in waiting.

From all the Ulster teams this year, Derry certainly have been the most impressive. Some may point to the fact they are playing in Division Two but sure they can only beat what’s in front of them and they have definitely put themselves in a position to be one of the main challengers for an assault on the All-Ireland – exciting times ahead for all of us Oakleafers!

In Division Three, with Cavan already securing promotion, it only leaves Fermanagh with something to play for from an Ulster perspective.

With promotion in their own hands, Fermanagh will head to Kingspan Breffni on Sunday facing a Cavan team who may be hurting from their first loss last weekend against Antrim.

In a direct head-to-head with Offaly, who play Down at home, it will make for a nail-biting 90 minutes for both counties on Sunday afternoon. It has been a tough few weeks for Offaly after the passing of their manager Liam Kearns and for them to bounce back and get promotion after this would be a fitting end to their campaign.

Division Four is the most open of all the leagues with the only Ulster representation being in the form of management in both Sligo and Wicklow but there are still five teams which have a possibility of getting promotion which should make for a day in which permutations could be down to head-to-heads or score difference depending on the teams to prevail.

A special TV programme on Sunday dedicated to the final league games, similar to a Soccer Saturday set up, would just be ideal across the board to generate plenty of debate and talking points among the viewers.

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