SIX Ulster sides currently remain in the race to land the Sam Maguire Cup but as the championship pressure intensifies there are fears that this representation could be drastically trimmed.
However, Ulster Council secretary Danny Murphy believes that the province will still have a say in the final shake-up even though cynics have been decrying the standard of play on offer in recent games.
“I think that we have teams in the mix who are very capable of getting to the closing stages of the competition.
“In fact, I would be disappointed if this did not happen,” maintains Murphy.
His optimism has its roots in the theory that Down, Armagh, Tyrone and Antrim are favoured to win their second-round qualifying matches today which would see them go into tomorrow night’s draw.
And he believes that, irrespective of the outcome of next Sunday’s Ulster final, Derry and Donegal both have the capacity to continue their respective journeys through to the last eight of the All-Ireland series.
“Obviously there is going to be a change in Ulster now that neither Tyrone nor Armagh will be crowned provincial champions.
“Derry and Donegal have seized their chance to make it into the final on merit and I think it will prove a great climax to what has been a very good competition,” insists Murphy.
Yet a diet of rather mundane fare to date in the Ulster series has served to temper the notion that the Sam Maguire Cup could make a return to the province after three years.
And the supreme skill which both Kerry and Cork displayed in last Sunday’s Munster final — the Kingdom rampant in the first-half and the Rebels on fire after the break — has clearly confirmed that they remain the leading lights to take delivery of the ‘big one’.
Yet in a week in which Tyrone boss Mickey Harte has again refuted the ‘aged’ jibes directed at his team and Down manager James McCartan (pictured) has gone on record as saying that “the longer we are in the championship the stronger we will become” there is firm evidence to suggest that Ulster sides have no intention of allowing the more fancied teams to enjoy a free passage to glory.
While Derry manager John Brennan and his Donegal counterpart Jim McGuinness are both strongly focused on claiming the Ulster title, there is nonetheless justifiable hope in both counties that a vibrant challenge can be mounted for ‘Sam’.
That hope could become more pronounced following next weekend’s provincial decider which is creating huge interest in Ulster and beyond.