Lidl National Football League Division 1: Donegal v Dublin (Sunday, O’Donnell Park Letterkenny, 2pm)
It may be the first game of the season and it will take a bit of time to blow the cobwebs away but it is a great opportunity to set some standards and what better way than against the All-Ireland champions.
There are new names too at the helm of the Tir Chonail team for 2018 in Maxi Curran and Damian Devenney, taking over from Micheal Naughton. Curran is a former manager, having led them to the All-Ireland junior title in 2003 while Devenney was part of Naughton’s backroom team last year as trainer.
“When you are drawn against the All-Ireland champions in the first game of the season it helps to focus the mind,” said Curran a familiar face across GAA in Donegal.
“It will be a tough game but a great way to start the league and the season and to welcome the All-Ireland champions to Donegal.”
Donegal marked their return to the top flight last season by reaching the Division One decider only to lose out to champions Cork by the smallest of margins but Curran admits that the target first and foremost is retaining top tier league status and finding out about their players.
“I think if every manager is honest, staying in the division is the target and developing and finding out about your players, “ said the Downings club man, who was also a selector with former senior men’s boss Rory Gallagher while he was also part of Jim McGuinness’ backroom team for three years and Donegal under 21 manager.
“Damian and I are in our first year and for us this league is about very much about learning and using the seven league games as a vehicle to get us ready for championship in June.”
All of the regular starters in the green and yellow are back again this season with promising young player Bridget Gallagher returning and Moville’s Sarah Jane McDonnell also one of the new faces. Irish News Ladies Football Merit Award winner, midfielder Karen Guthrie will captain the side.
The management duo is looking forward to working with the current Ulster champions, whose dedication and commitment are second to none, says Curran.
“My memories and reflections from 2003 are so positive,” he recall, “and to come back into ladies football is something I have always intended to do.
“These players are hugely dedicated and committed and they have the talent there to back that up. I have watched them and they are close to the top and we are looking forward to this year.”
Dublin have yet to get their hands on the Division One league title, so no doubt putting that right will be a target of manager Mick Bohan and if they are to make any inroads on Cork’s dominance, they need to make the league count too.
Whatever team – he has a 43 person panel – Dublin manager Mick Bohan takes with him to Letterkenny on Sunday is sure to be full of talent and may well have a few AllStars on there too. Donegal, though will certainly not fear the champions and will battle them all the way.
Division 1: Galway v Monaghan (Sunday, TBC, 2pm)
MONAGHAN begin their 26th consecutive year in the top division with a trip to Galway for new manager Ann Marie Burns.
It has been a difficult couple of seasons for the Ulster stalwarts, who have been battling against relegation rather than fighting for honours at the top of the table.
Burns, a five time All-Ireland club winner with Donaghmoyne and a two time Ulster senior medal winner with Monaghan, replaced Paula Cunningham at the helm and has brought on board her club’s All-Ireland winning manager Francie Coleman to her backroom team.
They have injected the team with more youth in the form of Louise Kerley and another of the McAnespie sisters, Aisling, and while Grainne McNally and Cathriona McConnell are unavailable, Therese Scott makes a return after a year’s absence.
First and foremost will be survival in Division One but should they be able to put the right results together they might not be far off a top four spot.
Division 2: Armagh v Tipperary (Sunday, Silverbridge, 12noon)
ARMAGH begin life back in Division Two with a home game against Tipperary. This fixture was meant to be played as a curtain-raiser to the Armagh men’s NFL opener against Sligo in the Athletic Grounds but the 12noon throw-in could not be facilitated by Armagh GAA.
This round 1 game will be a good test for the Orchard County, not least for their new management duo of Lorraine McCaffrey and Fionnuala McAtamney. It will give them a chance against the newly promoted Tipperary, who also step up to senior championship level this year, to see where they stand after two years in Division One.
McCaffrey and McAtamney are Armagh to the core, the former one of the three women who steered Armagh to astonishing success from nowhere in the mid-noughties while McAtamney was the All Star nominee goalkeeper in that team which lost the 2006 All Ireland final to Cork by a single point.
They have managed to retain their frontliners like Caroline O’Hanlon, Caoimhe Morgan, Mairead Tennyson, Sarah Marley, Marian McGuinness who are still pivotal cogs in the Armagh machine in their thirties. They have injected more youth into the squad – Niamh Coleman, Louise Kenny,
Aoibheann Jones among them.
Division 2: Tyrone v Waterford (Sunday, Drumragh Sarsfields, 2pm)
TYRONE found out last season how tough life is in Division Two and were bitterly disappointed to miss out on a semi-final berth and a shot at the title and promotion.
Those will be the targets again for 2018 for manager Gerry Moane who has renewed his tenure after guiding them to the All-Ireland Intermedaite Final last September, but it certainly will not be easy. They need to start off by winning their home games and this round one game against Waterford gives them home advantage.
The sides met in the final league game last season with Tyrone winning by eight points and they will be hoping for the same winning outcome again.
NEW Cavan manager James Daly takes charge of his first competitive match with a trip to Laois in Division Two.
He and the Breffni faithful will be hoping 2018 will be the year they can finally win promotion to Division One after knocking on the door in recent years. Last year they went close, losing out on the title to Westmeath after a league final replay.
Daly has huge management experience behind him and has won promotion with Armagh from Division Three to One and last year with Longford from Division Four to Three.
However, with Tyrone and Armagh competing in the second tier along with newly promoted and All-Ireland intermediate champions Tipperary to name just three other teams, this is a very competitive league. Top four spot will be the target while making sure they don’t drop into the relegation zone either. Starting off with a win over Laois is the immediate priority to bag those first valuable three league points.
DOWN begin their Division 3 campaign away to Meath, a reversal of the first game of the season 12 months ago.
That day Meath left the Mourne County with an eight point victory and it would be another four games before Down would record their first and only victory of the league, against Limerick, but enough to avoid relegation.
Ryan McShane is in his second year in charge and will be hoping to build on the 2017 league performances. Despite just the one victory, there were plenty of promising aspects to take from the games and as a team in transition it was a learning curve.
Division 4: Fermanagh v Antrim (Sunday, Donagh, 2pm)
THE first all-Ulster derby of the year falls to Fermanagh and Antrim, two teams that really want to try and get out of Division Four for the development of football in their counties.
Emmet Curry and Mickey Cadden remain in charge of the All-Ireland junior champions and while there are plenty of new faces on board, they have lost the experience of Sharon Murphy, Marita McDonald, Maria Connolly and Edel Campbell.
Antrim are still under the tutelage of Seamus McKenna and welcome back a number of experienced players who missed out on last year including Cathy Carey and Jenny McCavana.
Fermanagh made the semi-finals of the league last year and really will want to be doing the same this time around especially as they now are intermediate championship level. Last year Antrim struggled with a very young team. A year on they are more experienced and that will help but this is still a very young Saffron squad.
Division 4: Wicklow v Derry (Sunday, An Tochar GAA Roundwood, 2pm)
DERRY have failed to make any great impact in the league in recent years but after last year’s hugely successful championship run, losing out on the All-Ireland junior title to Fermanagh in a replay and the massive steps they have taken to putting pride back in playing for the Derry jersey, they will be hoping to make some inroads in the 2018 league campaign.
The Oak Leaf County has shaken up their management team for the new 2018 season. Paul Crozier stays on but he has been joined by former manager Charlie O’Kane, Connor Henry and former player Catherine Fletcher.
The start off the new year with a trip to Wicklow, last year’s beaten league finalists. Their aim will be a knockout spot, but Division Four is not an easy league by any means and they may fall short.
YOUNG PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2018
Chloe McCaffrey (Tyrone) – The St Macartan’s player was called up to Gerry Moane’s senior squad last season, playing in one national league game and bit parts throughout the championship including an appearance as a sub in Tyrone’s All-Ireland Intermediate Championship Final defeat last September.
She has been top club scorer in the Tyrone club championship in recent years, was an integral part of St Ciaran’s Ballygawley success in 2017 and won her first Ulster Club Senior Championship medal with St Macartans last year as well.
Aine Devlin (Antrim) – The Moneyglass club player has returned to the Antrim senior county set-up for 2018 after taking a break last year. At just 16, she played for the Saffrons in their All-Ireland Junior Final defeat to Longford and is an Ulster Schools All Star this year.
The dual inter-county player has a keen eye for goal and is not afraid to take on her opponent, her speed and strength giving many opposition teams cause for concern.
Eimear Smyth (Fermanagh) – The young forward burst onto the scene in 2017 for Fermanagh and was instrumental in their All-Ireland junior final success.
Making her senior debut, aged 16, against Derry in the Ulster junior final, the occasion certainly did not get to her as she scored 3-4 helping her side to victory.
Her accuracy from frees is impressive for getting scores and with ball in hand she dangerous as she takes on opposition defence and she will be key to Fermanagh’s battle for promotion from Division 4 in 2018.
Louise Kerley (Monaghan) – Louise has been making waves for Donaghmoyne the past few seasons and duly deserves her place in the Monaghan senior squad for 2018.
New manager Ann Marie Burns knows only too well the scoring prowess and speed that Kerley can bring to the county having played along with her for Donaghmoyne B and watching her right through from underage to senior level, winning an All-Ireland senior club title, as part of the management setup.
Kerley was also an integral part of the winning Ulster post-primary schools interprovincial squad in 2017 and will play for them again this weekend as they look to defend their title.
Blaithin Mackin (Armagh) – It’s hard to believe Mackin is still a teenager, having just turned 19 yet has started all 20 of Armagh’s matches over the past two seasons. She is somewhat in her sister’s – two times All Star winner Aimee – shadow but is very much a prominent part of the Orchard County’s plans. She is not afraid to weigh in with a score or two and can take her goals just as well as her points.
2018 LADIES FOOTBALL FIXTURES
Lidl National Football League Division 1 (first team at home)
Lidl National Football League Division 2 (first team at home)
Lidl National Football League Division 3 (first team at home)
Lidl National Football League Division 4 (first team at home)
SEVEN Lidl NFL ties will serve as curtain-raisers ahead of men’s National League fixtures.
Ulster Senior Championship
The TG4 championship will be restructured for the 2018 season.
FIXTURES BY COUNTY
Ulster Intermediate Club Championship Preliminary round
Ulster Junior Club Championship Preliminary round
Ulster Minor Club Championship Preliminary round
All-Ireland Club Championship
Saturday 3 / Sunday 4 November
Saturday 17 / Sunday 18 November
Saturday 1 December
Sunday 2 December
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