The 8 counties still chasing a first GAA football league win this season

WE’VE MOVED PAST the halfway point of the 2022 GAA football league as the action enters a decisive phase.

Eight teams are still awaiting their first win, frustrated in their four games to date and hoping for better luck as Round 5 fixtures await this weekend.

But who is feeling the greatest pressure as fears of relegation start to intensify?

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Division 1

Monaghan

The last day out against Kerry was Monaghan’s most dispiriting performance of the campaign, undone by the scoring magic of David Clifford and Sean O’Shea. Yet apart from that they have been highly competitive, and while that run has yielded no wins, they have a pair of points in the bag from draws against Tyrone and Armagh, along with a narrow defeat to Mayo.

They face into a difficult trip to Ballybofey on Sunday against a Donegal team buoyed by their recent win over Tyrone. The Round 6 game the following week against Kildare, a meeting of 6th and 7th currently in the table, may be the crucial one before they face Dublin on the last day. A long-running operator in the top tier, last year proved Monaghan have the wherewithal to escape from a tight spot.

Conor McManus.

Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Dublin

The most high-profile of all the eigth sides still without a win in this spring’s football league. Having shared last year’s title and collected the silverware five times between 2013 and 2018, being rooted to the bottom of the table is a stunning scenario for Dublin to now face. It’s all the more striking because they are the only team in the country to have lost all four of their games to date.

The stakes are high as Dublin head into their final set of matches. Defeat on Sunday in Omagh could send them down, if Kildare have already won Saturday night in Armagh. Injuries have hurt their squad and there was improvements in their play last time out against Kildare, but it’s still a tough task to mount a rescue operation as Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan await.

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A dejected Dean Rock.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Division 2

Meath

Last June saw Meath lose out by three points to Kildare in a promotion play-off with Division 1 football the sizeable prize on offer. This time around it’s been a tougher season as they have travelled in the opposite direction in the second tier. They endured a horrible start, hit by the weather and a Galway onslaught in Salthill, before succumbing to Roscommon.

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Meath’s last two outings have produced draws against Down and Offaly. Given those were against relegation rivals, the failure to win even one of those could be costly, albeit they were grateful for a last-gasp goal to save themselves in Tullamore. Sunday’s game against Cork looks highly significant, they have Clare and then high-flying Derry to come after that.

Cork

In a similar state to Meath as relegation concerns start to grow for Cork, and the potential knock-on impact of missing out on competing for the Sam Maguire in 2022. They have one point less than the Royals, a draw garnered against Clare their only positive outcome to date. There is vital context in their fixture list, Cork’s three losses to date have been against the three teams that will fight it out for promotion – Derry, Galway and Roscommon.

So the schedule looks kinder on paper from hereon in as they face fellow basement scrappers in Meath, Down and Offaly. But the pressure to get points on the board increases for new manager Keith Ricken, a county that finished 2021 by getting walloped by Kerry, have not seen 2022 begin in a more positive fashion.

Action from the recent Cork-Derry game.

Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

Down

A draw with Meath is the only bright spot in the results record to date for Down. Similar to Cork, there is a source of comfort in that their defeats have been at the hands of this division’s dominant trio. Thus their next two games against Offaly and Cork, should in theory be less daunting.

The county did produce the All-Ireland club kingpins last month, but it’s not yet clear how many Kilcoo players will be available to fire Down’s charge. A critical eight-day period commences this Saturday night, having home advantage is a help against Offaly and the sense is they must win in Newry.

Offaly

After making the leap from Division 3 last year, Offaly will be aiming to avoid a swift return to that sector. They suffered two convincing losses to Clare and Derry to begin with, but their displays since were far more heartening against Meath and Galway. The issue is neither resulted in a victory, caught in sickening fashion by a late goal from Meath and ending four points in arrears in Salthill last Sunday, despite amassing 3-10.

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Down on Saturday night is a critical encounter, then they travel to Roscommon and host Cork in their last game. At present they are bottom of the table but only on scoring difference as Cork and Down are also on a point each. Check out the scoring difference to be reminded of how tight it is – Cork (-23), Down (-24) and Offaly (-25).

Offaly boss John Maughan.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Division 3

Wicklow

Last June, Wicklow pulled off a shock in their relegation play-off, two points superior against the then Ulster title holders Cavan. That preserved their status in Division 3 but their manager that day, Davy Burke, departed last August and his successor Colin Kelly moved on last week ‘due to a change in work commitments’. This week saw Alan Costello and Gary Duffy both installed as joint managers for the remainder of the season.

That’s plenty turbulence off the pitch and on it they have sustained three losses at the hands of Westmeath, Antrim and Limerick to date. Those defeats have been by margins ranging from four to six points, so the gap is not vast, and they did draw with Fermanagh. But they need to prevent themselves getting cut adrift. The next two games are critical as they entertain Laois, who are sixth, this Sunday, and then travel to Longford, who are seventh, on Sunday week.

Aughrim, the home of the Wicklow footballers.

Source: ©INPHO

Division 4

Waterford

Waterford are the only side in this winless group, that do at least have the comfort that relegation will not come into play. Still an upturn in results would be something their camp would appreciate before Division 4 concludes. They fought hard in their first two games to draw with Tipperary and lost by a single point to London, before defeats to Carlow and Leitrim ensued.

They are away to Wexford this weekend and then Ephie Fitzgerald’s charges have two challenging assignments before they wrap up, at home to Sligo and away to Cavan.

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