By Shaun Casey
DOWN have had a difficult start to the championship season, losing to Kerry in round one of the Joe McDonagh Cup before suffering a 7-24 to 0-14 defeat to Laois last weekend. Things can only get better for Ronan Sheehan’s men when they travel to Offaly this weekend, but it won’t be easy as their opponents are table toppers after three matches.
Tyrone will have been delighted with their 2-20 apiece draw with Derry in the opening round, and they face a very winnable encounter with Mayo, who are coming in off the back of a loss to Offaly in round one, although Michael McShane’s side on are the road.
Mayo didn’t have a great Division 3A league campaign and fell out of contention for promotion pretty early, but with some experienced faces coming back into the fold for the championship, Tyrone will know they’re in for a game.
Derry on the other hand have home advantage when they face Sligo on Sunday. Both suffered relegation from their respective leagues and the Oak Leaf County will remain a division above Sunday’s opponents next year. Antrim begin their Leinster Championship campaign against Dublin in Corrigan Park this weekend, in the first of five group games. Following the date with the Dubs, Antrim face upcoming battles against Wexford, Kilkenny, Galway and Westmeath.
It’ll be the third meeting with Dublin this season for Darren Gleeson’s side, having already played in the Walsh Cup and the National League and Antrim have lost to Micheal Donoghue’s team on both occasions.
While Antrim lost twice, the gap was manageable both times and the Saffron’s will be hopeful they can make it third time lucky and in such a tough competition, home advantage is so important.
Antrim showed during the league that they are well fit to mix it with the best in the business but getting over the line against the big teams in the next challenge. If they are to win, they’ll need sharpshooter Conal Cunning, their top scorer in the league with 1-40, to be on top form.
Armagh got their Nickey Rackard Cup campaign up and running with an eye-catching victory over Division 3A champions Roscommon, who defeated Karl McKeegan’s Orchard County in the league final.
Goals from Conor Renaghan and Eoin McGuinness were the main scores in Armagh’s 12-point win. They’ll expect a tougher test when they take on Donegal this weekend, although they’ll enjoy the comforts of home advantage.
Donegal also got off to a winning start last weekend when they overpowered Fermanagh to win by six points. Liam McKinney (1-5) and Declan Coulter (0-5) were the main men up front and carry a huge scoring threat.
Fermanagh will aim to bounce back when they host Wicklow in round two and will take massive confidence from last weekend’s outing. Wicklow competed in Division 2B and reached the league semi-final, so they will be up for the task. Cavan had a tricky first round, losing to Warwickshire in Birmingham, but will have home advantage when they meet neighbours Monaghan on Saturday. The Farney men head into the encounter following a 1-18 to 3-12 draw with Leitrim.