Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Derry and Armagh have no chance, says Canavan

Peter Canavan made no bones about it last weekend. Neither Derry nor Armagh will win the Ulster title. It simply can't happen in his considered estimation.

The path to liberation from football's provincial hothouse is strewn with too much hardship for them. The curse of the ‘graveyard' shift will be too cumbersome to bear.

To win Ulster Derry and Armagh, who get the football championship under way in Celtic Park on Sunday afternoon, must, in Canavan's view, peak too often in the months ahead.

Being tasked with winning four games to escape their province is too great a request for them and Monaghan according to Canavan, who await the winners in a quarter final, are best placed to pick up the pieces. So being the first names out of the hat last autumn is, it seems, a sentence to another ‘trophy-less' championship summer for Derry and Armagh.

It is akin to being drawn in the greyhound racing's ‘coffin' trap four in the past or more recently, since the traps were redesigned, trap one.

But then that's Ulster, that has almost always been the province's way. It's why they claim gross inequity and imbalance when they look to the far off pastures of Munster where Kerry can cruise to a Munster final on the back of one token effort. The records tell their own story. In the 65 years since Cavan landed the sixth of their nine titles in the 1940s just one more team has come the full distance to claim an Ulster championship, Armagh in 2005.

It is a measure of that Armagh team that they could win their preliminary round game against Fermanagh on May 15 that year and still be going strong enough in on July 23, 10 weeks later, to win an Ulster final replay against Tyrone.

It can be argued that the achievement of Kerry, Tyrone and Galway in winning All-Ireland title through the back door involved a more exhaustive schedule but the momentum in playing back to back matches week after week sometimes allows for greater momentum than a stop start provincial championship in a much harder environment.

There's novelty in Tyrone welcoming Westmeath to Healy Park or Kerry trekking through the midlands to square off with Antrim. There's nothing novel however about Armagh sweeping into the Bogside next Sunday afternoon.

Last week the Derry manager Damian Cassidy dismissed the curse of the preliminary round as something that wouldn't keep him awake at night.

“Do you think for one minute that we are sitting around as a group of players saying that there is only one team in 65 years that won the Ulster championship coming from the preliminary round? You can be sure, we are not,” he emphasised.

But surely it's there in the back of their minds, the scale of the mountain they have to climb just to claim their first Ulster title in 12 years. Beat Armagh on Sunday and they earn a quarter final against Monaghan. Hardly sounds like a reward does it!

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