The first round of the 2020 GAA National Leagues commences on Saturday, January 25th. Last year saw Mayo capture the Division 1 Football title, while Donegal, Westmeath and Derry won Divisions 2, 3 and 4, respectively.
2020 sees the introduction of a few rule changes that will be operational in Gaelic Football at all levels this season. These include the advance mark, and a 10-minute sin bin, which has been brought in for black card offences.
The National League will give the entire country a first look at the new rules. How each county will utilise the advance mark should be very interesting.
This year’s National League is of extra importance to the Division 2 and 3 teams, with next season’s Championship being split into two tiers. By the end of the 2020 National League, whoever is in Divisions 1 & 2 will compete for the Sam Maguire in the Tier 1 competition, while whoever ends up in Divisions 3 & 4 will operate in the new Tier 2 competition in 2021.
Once again 5-in-a-row All-Ireland Champions Dublin are the favourites to claim the Division 1 title under the new stewardship of Dessie Farrell. You would expect, though, that this Division will be extremely competitive, as it has been in recent years.
In a week where young Kerry starlet David Clifford turned 21, he was named Kerry Senior Football captain. He will lead the Kingdom out in Croke Park on Saturday evening against the Dubs in his first game as Kerry skipper. This is a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland Final and should be a fascinating contest.
I expect Mayo and Donegal also to be very competitive in this division, but, for me, a team to look out for this year is Galway. In Padraic Joyce’s first year as the Tribesmen’s manager, it appears from his time in the FBD League that he will play a very different style of football, to that of his predecessor Kevin Walsh, who regularly opted for a more defensive approach.
Joyce has made the talented Shane Walsh captain for the year, and if he can get the most out of the likes of Walsh, Damien Comer and Ian Burke, Galway can be a formidable force this year.
For me, Monaghan and Meath could struggle to retain their Division 1 status this year. Meath are back in Division 1 for the first time since 2006. This will be a great experience for their young players but I think they will find it hard to pick up points against the elite counties.
Seamus “Banty” McEneaney has returned as manager of Monaghan, who are entering their sixth year in Division 1. The Farney County have had a few retirements, which does affect the strength of their squad and they have also lost their influential manager Malachy O’Rourke. Monaghan just about stayed up last year and, with Division 1 looking stronger this year, I think McEneaney’s men will be relegated with the Royals this time around.
Tyrone are a team who might be in danger of being relegated also, with Mattie Donnelly on the long-term injury list and the uncertainty over Cathal McShane’s future with the Red Hand Men. A lot will depend on how Tyrone start their campaign. Mickey Harte’s charges face Meath at home and Monaghan away in their first two fixtures.
Winners – Kerry @ 11/4
In my opinion, Division 2 is between three counties – Kildare, Armagh and Roscommon.
All three of these teams have genuine ambitions of playing Division 1 Football. Armagh and Roscommon both had very positive years last term, and both Kieran McGeeney and Anthony Cunningham will be hoping to build on this and take their teams to the next level.
Kildare will be hoping to be much improved this year, and they have a good chance of achieving this, with the return of key forwards, Niall Kelly and Daniel Flynn being a huge boost for them.
The likes of Cavan, Clare and Laois have been decimated with regards to star players leaving their panels. Three of Cavan’s most impressive performers from last year, Dara McVeety, Conor Moynagh and Killian Clarke, have all opted out for 2020.
Laois are in a fairly similar position, with the two Kingston brothers and last year’s captain Stephen Attride all deciding to not return to the fold. I think Laois along with Clare could really struggle to stay in Tier 1. Clare received a double blow with the news that star players Gary Brennan and Jamie Malone were taking a year out.
Winners – Kildare @ 9/4
Cork are the stand-out team in Division 3 and should be good enough to win this division. The added incentive for the Rebels, of course, is the fact that a county of their stature really shouldn’t be playing Tier 2 Championship football, so promotion is a must for them.
Derry and Down should provide stiff opposition to Cork, and I think it is between these two Ulster rivals to meet Cork in the Division 3 decider. Down have home advantage against Derry in Round 2 so I’m going to give the Mourne County the edge there.
Louth are another team who have lost quite a few players so, given that Wayne Kierans’ side are a team in transition, I think they could drop to Division 4.
I think that Leitrim may be out of their depth in Division 3 also. They had a very positive 2019 getting to the Division 4 decider and gaining promotion, but it could be a short stay in Division 3 for Terry Hyland’s charges.
Winners – Cork @ 4/7
Turlough O’Brien will be hoping his Carlow side can bounce back from their disappointing relegation last year in what is a very winnable Division 4. They are favourites to win this division and I think this is warranted, based on the overall progress they have made in the last couple of seasons under O’Brien.
I think the surprise package in this division could be Limerick. They won the McGrath Cup for the first time in 15 years and, although no teams would be at full strength in that competition, they still put in some impressive performances. Danny Neville has really caught the eye. He kicked seven points in the McGrath Cup Final against Cork.
I fancy Carlow and Limerick to make the Division 4 Final with Carlow to narrowly prevail.
Winners – Carlow @ 11/4
To Reach The Final – Limerick @ 6/4
National Football League Fixtures (Sat 25th Jan – Sun 26th Jan):
National Hurling League Fixtures (Sat 25th Jan – Sun 26th Jan):
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