Due to the nature of the games involved, NFL Divisional Final Previews are among the most difficult games of the year to assess, simply because they are perhaps the least important league games that any side will play all year. While there are medals on the table for the players involved, supporters are happy with the season as a whole while managers are already thinking ahead to the championship. The only real and meaningful league title is the division 1 accolade and it’s fair to say that Dublin fans wouldn’t be sated with league success, while Tyrone supporters already have an Ulster championship clash with Donegal to think of.
Always worth bearing in mind with these games is the fact that it’s very difficult to beat the same opponent twice in a short space of time. Results in the last three years of National League football would certainly bear out that belief.
In 2010, 2011 and 2012, twelve national football league divisional finals were played and naturally, in each case the two participants had already played during the round robin stage of the competition. In just three of the twelve cases, the team that won the round robin game also went on to win the league final. (The three instances were Louth over Westmeath 2011, Cork over Mayo and Longford over Wexford last year.)
In theory that should bode well for Offaly, Meath, Westmeath and Dublin, however in some cases we have to ask the question if it’s really the same teams meeting at all this week.
Dublin vs Tyrone
Previous meeting this season: Dublin 1-14 Tyrone 0-18, Croke Park, 16th March
This is the perfect example of a tie where the previous meeting was essentially irrelevant. Jim Gavin has yet to field what most people would consider his “full strength” team, however he was particularly mischievous for this one, resting Stephen Cluxton, Bernard Brogan, Rory O’Carroll and Michael Dara Macauley, even though he named a strong team – a lot of punters were very annoyed with that one when their bets on the boys in blue got burned.
Price wise, it’s just impossible to justify a bet on the Dubs here. Odds of 4/11 are extremely short when we consider that Tyrone have won five of their eight games this Spring and their narrow defeat to Kerry was very nearly a positive result despite their large half time deficit. Kildare were widely reputed to have targeted their league semi-final against the Red Hand men and they still fell short, while the return to form of Stephen O’Neill is particularly relevant. Tyrone have a chance here.
Derry vs Westmeath
Previous meeting this season: Derry 2-17 Westmeath 1-5, Celtic Park, 7th April
This is another game where the previous meeting is irrelevant. Westmeath’s promotion was secured when they travelled up north for the final round robin game of the season and while many would look at their team sheet from that game and say that they had a decent team out, the key line for Westmeath this season has been their half forward unit and without either Kieran Martin or Ger Egan, they were completely shorn of all their dynamism.
That said, even though we can understand the line of thought that led William Hill to go after Derry in this tie with a best price of 8/11, this is still a Derry team that has improved as the year has progressed, winning six games in a row. By the end of the season they were truly flying and even though Pat Flanagan had good cause to pull the reins in on his players for the final round game, he might just have ceded the all-important momentum factor to the Northerners.
Monaghan vs Meath
Previous meeting this season: Monaghan 1-18 Meath 2-3, Clones, 3rd February
Monaghan are definitely an enigma this season. They played four games at Clones, winning all four by an average of over ten points per match. They played three games away from St Tiernach’s Park, losing twice and narrowly scraping over the line against Fermanagh. Meath used to be the team that were associated with playing incredibly well at home and very poorly away from their own ground, but that appears to have changed this year. On that basis, it’s hard to trust the Farney men here. Meath have that little bit more familiarity with Croke Park, they should come through.
Limerick vs Offaly
Previous meeting this season: Offaly 1-8 Limerick 0-12, O’Connor Park, 10th February
Neither of these sides appeared to be playing particularly well in advance of the last and vital round of games, but they each produced big performances to deservedly beat Tipperary and Clare respectively, thus securing their place in this decider and in the third tier of the league next season.
Both sides have mastered the art of edging tight games – Limerick won five matches by a point or two, while Offaly’s last four wins came in games where the result was in the melting pot after 65 minutes. In normal circumstances that would point us towards a draw bet, but now that the pressure is off, it’s possible that both teams could throw the shackles off and play a different style of football. No bet.
1 pt Tyrone to beat Dublin @ 16/5 (Stan James)
2pts Derry to beat Westmeath @ 8/11 (Hills)
1pt Meath to beat Monaghan @ 13/10 (Boylesports)