NFL DIVISION 2 PREVIEW - Royals first up as Laois get set for busy spring

And so we start all over again. A new manager, a new squad and a new league campaign.

And so we start all over again. A new manager, a new squad and a new league campaign.

Just two years after Sean Dempsey started his spell as Laois manager, just four years after Liam Kearns started his, Armaghman Justin McNulty becomes the latest to try to emulate the feats of Mick O'Dwyer in making the county team a side that was competitive at the highest level and one that was respected across the country.

O'Dwyer's reign began with a narrow league win over Meath in Navan and that victory set in motion an incredible run of results that included both a Leinster triumph and a place in the Division 1 league final.

Meath come to O'Moore Park on Saturday night just 11 days after the sides met in a low-key O'Byrne Shield and the game offers Laois a great chance to get the season and the Justin McNulty era off to a winning start.

Meath are notoriously poor travellers in the league and while Laois have failed to beat them in five attempts over the last two years, it would be important to stop that rot as Laois seek to re-establish themselves as a power in Leinster.

It may have been achieved in chaotic scenes in Croke Park last July but Meath are actually the Leinster champions at the moment and if Laois are to be serious about beating teams of that calibre in the championship, they'll first have to start beating them regularly in the league.

The league fixtures have been relatively kind on Laois. They have four home games and three away with home ties against Ulster sides Donegal, Antrim and Tyrone as well as Meath this weekend. Having Kildare as one of the away games mean that Laois only have two long road trips - one of them to Celtic Park in Derry and the other to Sligo.

What to expect from Laois is hard to know. A new management team will give the panel a certain boost but while the return of players like Colm Parkinson, Donie Brennan and Gary Kavanagh will give extra attacking options, the defence has been badly hit. John Scully, Peter O'Leary, Rory Stapleton and Cathal Ryan are no longer involved and Cahir Healy's studies in England may curtail him somewhat.

Donie Kingston's injury may rob Laois of their most potent attacker for the first couple of rounds of the league and without him, Laois lack both their best ball winner and best finisher.

While McNulty understandably didn't place huge emphasis on the O'Byrne Cup campaign, the league will be a big challenge and he will quickly have to find a team capable of maintaining their Division 2 status. McNulty used 33 players in the league and Colm Begley, Kingston and John O'Loughlin have yet to feature.

In the three games in January, McNulty really tried things out, using three different goalkeepers, three centre-backs, three centre-forwards, two full forwards and two full-backs. He started three different midfield combinations and not one them contained last year's pairing of Brendan Quigley or Kevin Meaney.

Laois will probably need to win three games to survive in Division 2 and Saturday's clash with Meath offers as good a chance as any to gather points. Laois are at home again against Antrim on Sunday fortnight which offers another good chance before then travelling to Derry seven days later. A two-week break then ensues before Laois have two tricky games against Kildare and Tyrone and then finish up with an away trip to Sligo on April 3 and a home tie against Donegal on April 10.

Who to watch out for? Kieran Lillis, Robbie Kehoe, Daithi Carroll and Paul Cahillane should all get a good opportunity over the coming months while it 's now up to the likes of Brendan Quigley and Mark Timmons to provide the leadership.

There is no doubt that it will be a challenging couple of months for McNulty and the panel. The first year of any management term is about laying the foundations but an impatient public need to see progress too and they need to win enough games to ensure their survival.

They should stay up but gaining promotion will probably be beyond them for this year.

NFL DIVISION 2 BETTING - To win Division 2: Tyrone 7/4, Kildare 7/2, Derry 5/1, Meath 6/1, Donegal 15/2, Laois 11/1, Sligo 16/1, Antrim 22/1; To be relegated: Sligo 8/11, Antrim 4/5, Laois 7/4, Donegal 5/2, Meath 3/1, Derry 10/3, Kildare 5/2, Tyrone 14/1

More News

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.