The Allianz Football League finals take place this weekend, bringing the competition to a finish – in a sense, at least.

Following the conclusion of the regular section of the leagues, everybody knows in which division they will be operating in 2025, with promotion and relegation sorted. However, the placings in the league are important in terms of dictating which counties will be competing for the Sam Maguire and which ones will be in the second-tier Tailteann Cup.

There are 16 spots up for grabs in the top-level All-Ireland championship. Meath, having won the Tailteann Cup last year, are guaranteed one of those places and then eight will go to the counties reaching the finals of their respective provincial championships and the rest are dictated by league finish.

Many of the provincial finalists will be those who are in Division 1 anyway. Their ‘double qualification’ means that it is the teams in the middle of Division 2 who will be sweating to see if anybody from the lower divisions make a final.

Down and Westmeath, the sides promoted from Division 3 to Division 2 next year, are the likeliest to cause a splash in the Ulster and Leinster championships respectively. Then, the make-up of the Munster draw means that one of Clare, Tipperary or Waterford will be progressing to the decider.

It’s not ideal for the likes of Cavan, Cork or Louth – third, fourth and sixth respectively in Division 2, with Meath fifth – in terms of trying to make an assault on their local championship. Then, if they are unsuccessful, they are left waiting for confirmation that their place at the top table is assured.

One possible solution would be to play the provincial championships first, before the leagues, so that there is more clarity about the teams’ situations.

Such a proposal would likely draw opposition from traditionalists, who feel that the competitions have already been diluted by the new championship format. The response to that is, if they were to act as a season-opener, it could afford more prestige rather than being shoehorned into a tiny space between the league and the championship.

Drastic changes

There is no such need for drastic changes in the hurling as the Munster and Leinster championships continue to feed directly into the All-Ireland. One potential pitfall, however, with the league flowing right into the ‘real thing’ is the potential for knockout meetings to be foreshadowing championship fixtures.

Was one of the reasons for Limerick’s poor performance in Saturday evening’s semi-final against Kilkenny the fact that they didn’t want to be meeting Clare or Limerick in the final? The fact that their Munster SHC opener is away to Clare on Sunday, 21 April would have brought an all-Midwest final into sharper focus and presumably raised the chances of a phony war a fortnight out from championship.

We won’t know if it was just a Limerick blip until the championship starts but, certainly, a Clare-Limerick league final is a game that can be taken on its own merits. At the same time, the Cats’ wins against the Banner in the All-Ireland semi-finals in the past two years do provide a bit of an edge.

At local level, with Cork not having a competitive game until the trip to Waterford on 21 April, the focus for The Echo is on internal matters.

Last Sunday morning brought a trip to Midleton to cover a RedFM Hurling League game between the hosts and Bride Rovers – and a chance to earn some parenting brownie points.

As league games have smaller crowds and less intensity, they are ideal to bring along my four- and two-year-old boys Johnny and Aaron, albeit with the promise of a colouring book afterwards.


Both enjoy kicking a football up and down the hall and thankfully, have naturally picked up an affinity for Arsenal like me – with no coaching whatsoever, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. However, hurling has been a tougher sell, for whatever reason – perhaps the foam oversize ‘sliothar’ was a factor, too big for the bas of his hurley.

The fact that the free-taker for Midleton on Sunday shared his name with Aaron provided some interest for the boys, while the after-glow of St Patrick’s Day allowed Johnny to enjoy the fact that Bride Rovers’ jerseys were like the Ireland flag. When he likened Midleton’s black and white hoops to zebras, I didn’t correct him to say their nickname is the Magpies.

Then, at half-time, Johnny spotted a girl near us in the stand controlling a sliothar on her hurley and wondered if he might be allowed to get one. Luckily, a goodie bag from O’Neills the previous week to promote their sponsorship of the All-Ireland U20 Hurling Championship included a yellow smart sliothar and the hallway had the enjoyable sound of ash and leather after we got home that evening.

Let’s just see if the pride is still there when a few windows break.

Ireland women make case for defence

Charlotte Escudero of France is tackled by Aoibheann Reilly, left, and Christy Haney of Ireland during the Women’s Six

Nations Championship in Le Mans. \ Hugo Pfeiffer

A 38 -17 loss away to France in last weekend’s opener was obviously a disappointment for Ireland but, equally, it was not an unexpected result.

Last year, Ireland finished with the wooden spoon whereas France finished runners-up to England and a trip to Le Mans was always one made more in hope than expectation.

Under pressure for most of the first half, Ireland’s defence was disciplined and resilient but the concession of a second try just before half-time was a blow and the home side overpowered them in the second period. There was some consolation though as the Aoifes – Wafer and Dalton – scored late tries for Ireland.


The next assignment for Ireland is likely to give a better insight into the level of improvement from last year. Italy come to the RDS on Sunday (3pm), with the visitors having opened their campaign with a 48-0 loss at home to England last weekend.

Try-scorer Dalton feels that all of the home games – Wales come to Cork while Scotland visit Belfast – have to be seen as attainable targets.

“Compared to last year, our physicality has gone through the roof, it’s something we pride ourselves on,” she said.

“We even shocked ourselves with how physical we could be and then our scramble ‘D’ [defence] worked really well at times.

“We’re definitely targeting all three home games as winnable games.”

Just under a year ago, Ireland lost 24-7 against Italy in Parma. Sunday will show if that balance of power has changed.

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