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Tuesday 26 March 2019

Vital weekend for Leinster's pretenders as League race really hots up

IMPRESSIVE: Meath’s Darragh Campion. Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
IMPRESSIVE: Meath’s Darragh Campion. Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

There may yet be a job for Kevin McStay in Croke Park's marketing department.

At a time when no entity in the GAA is as unloved and derided quite so much as the Leinster SFC, the former Roscommon manager sounded a rare chirpy note for the competition in his brief as analyst on RTÉ's League Sunday programme after Meath's recent Division 2 victory over Kildare.

"Definitely, everything is going in the right direction" McStay reckoned of both teams' capacity to challenge Dublin for the Delaney Cup in a more meaningful way in the near future.

"No matter what happens now, the Leinster Championship will have a little bit more sparkle to it."

Because if there is a single thing the Leinster Championship hasn't had enough of in recent years (and there are many: excitement, quality, entertainment, decent crowds etc.) it's sparkle.

Since Jim Gavin's arrival in 2013 pre-empted Dublin to reducing the Leinster SFC into a procession, their average winning margin in six seasons is just below 15.5 points.

Like Dublin, the other nine teams in this year's Leinster SFC are in League action this Saturday in what could be a pivotal weekend for the province's pretenders and by extension, their ability to sprinkle some sparkle this summer.

DIVISION 2

MEATH (1st)

Leinster's obvious movers so far. Darragh Campion, replete with the graceful stylings of Trevor Giles, has been the breakthrough act of Meath's spring while Donal Keogan is arguably the outstanding player in the division so far.

A victory in Ennis against Clare - who they have beaten by 14 and 12 points in their League meetings in the last two years - and Division1 status, finally, is theirs.

KILDARE (4th)

Not quite out of the promotion picture at this moment but relying on slips from above from Fermangh or Meath or both.

Jimmy Hyland's transition to seniordom has been remarkably smooth, although they have missed Daniel Flynn's strength and energy.

Question marks over leadership when pressure comes on remain, as seen in their inability to score more than a single point from play in Enniskillen and a complete fade-out in Navan two weeks ago.

DIVISION 3

WESTMEATH (2nd)

Last year was the first time since 2012 that Westmeath stayed in their Division for more than a single year after a dizzying succession of promotions and relegations.

In what is the tightest division and a sort of mini Leinster 'B' Championship with six counties from the province, they could be on the move again with a strong finish.

LOUTH (3rd)

Surprise contenders for an immediate return to Division 2. Lost all seven League games under Pete McGrath in 2018 and finished with the worst scoring difference (-67) and highest rate of concession (13-104) of any team across the four divisions prior to heavy Championship defeats to Carlow and Leitrim.

LAOIS (4th)

Have lacked consistency, as seen in their defeats to Louth and Westmeath but John Sugrue possesses as talented a squad as any manager in the division. With Carlow and Offaly in their final two games, should go close to one of the top spots.

CARLOW (5th)

Holding their own in Carlow's first season outside the bottom rung of League football in 32 years. Victory over Louth was huge to survival hopes although their run-in - featuring a trip to Newry and a home game with Laois - is tricky. Shipped just two goals in their five games to date.

LONGFORD (6th)

Have conceded the fewest scores of any team in the division but other than Fermanagh and Kildare, possess the lowest scoring total of any team across the League. Survival is their priority now.

OFFALY (7th)

Host Laois on Saturday in what is a vital in game ensuring an awful week for Offaly GAA doesn't get even worse. Travel to pointless and already-relegated Sligo on final day of season but currently, looked the likliest to join them in Division 4 next year.

DIVISION 4

WICKLOW (4th)

Given they finished as the lowest ranked team in football last spring, Wicklow's current position isn't to be sniffed at.

WEXFORD (5th)

A 13-point defeat to Leitrim on the League's opening day just about summed up their current standing.

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