The well-being of club football in Ulster is invariably a hot topic of discussion. The cynics - and there are many of them — tend to accentuate the perceived negatives while playing down the positives.
But anyone who harbours doubts about the ability of clubs here to produce consistently high-class fare would do well to study a video of last Sunday’s Crossmaglen Rangers v Ballinderry Shamrocks provincial club final — if they were not physically present at the game, that is.
Here we had two teams who both have enjoyed their share of success over the past decade or so providing a contest that, for me, incorporated all that is good in our football.
It is, of course, impossible to please all of the people all of the time, but certainly any neutral would have left Brewster Park, Enniskillen considerably uplifted by what he or she observed.
Ironically, here we are in darkest winter and some of the fare on offer vastly outstrips the quality provided on occasions during the peak of the championship season.
Crossmaglen’s experience appeared to have put them in the driving seat down the home run-in, but Ballinderry showed immense character to hit back and earn the right to renew acquaintance with the Rangers on Sunday next.
And, without wishing to be regarded as biased, I would hope that referee Martin Sludden may have cause to review the red card which he issued to John McEntee.
The Rangers player was sent- off after tangling with Darren Conway and the latter may be somewhat disappointed with himself given that video footage of the match reveals that he was not, in fact, struck in the face.
Any referee can make a genuine mistake and I feel that Martin may now wish to amend his report in the light of evidence on offer from the match.
John McEntee may yet be cleared to participate in the replay — I would feel that justice would be served should this turn out to be the case.
And if the replay contains anything like the skill, drama and colour that highlighted last Sunday’s game, then we are in for another pre-Christmas treat.
Like a lot of other people, I would have preferred had the replay been fixed for an earlier time than 3.45 to facilitate travel plans for supporters of both teams, particularly given the hazards thrown up by night-time driving just now.
I would expect, too, that Enniskillen will be awash with Christmas shoppers on Sunday, many of whom will probably be leaving there at just about the same time as the fans are exiting Brewster Park.
If the GAA authorities have branded November and December as a close season in terms of all forms of inter-county activity they
must surely be grateful that the Club Championship series continues to keep the kettle boiling nicely.
Not only is the Ulster replay scheduled for this Sunday, but the Munster and Leinster deciders are also on the menu, making it a hugely appealing date in the sporting diary.
To add spice to the programme, the Ulster winners will take on the Munster champions in the All Ireland Club semi-final which means that either Crossmaglen or Ballinderry will confront Limerick side Drom-Broadford or Clare representatives Kilmurry-Ibrickane in the New Year.
Bear in mind that Drom-Broadford terminated the interest of fancied Nemo Rangers in the Munster Club Championship and have earned new respect for themselves.
At the same time, I have been made aware that Kilmurry-Ibrickane feel that this is their year for glory — just as De La Salle felt they could go all the way in the Munster Club Hurling Championship and eventually did just that.
In the Leinster final, Kilmacud Crokes may not quite have things all their own way against a Rhode side that certainly looked very impressive in their semi-final victory over Eire Og (Carlow).
Kilmacud have a handful of Dublin’s elite players in their side including the Magee brothers Johnny and Darren, Mark Vaughan and Paul Griffen. They can also call upon Fermanagh’s versatile Liam McBarron — at home in midfield or attack — and Wexford wing-back Adrian Morrissey.
But even though they have these resources, the Crokes will be keeping their guard up.
And when you consider that the 2007 and 2008 Allstars will be in action in San Francisco at the week-end, it can be clearly seen that there is lots to keep the (armchair) fans enthused!