Long awaited hurling final given green light
The much-delayed 2013 Ulster senior hurling championship final between Down and Antrim is expected to go ahead at Celtic Park, Derry on Sunday.
But given that Down are also scheduled to meet Kildare in the Kehoe Cup semi-final on that day and that Antrim side Kickhams Creggan are in the All-Ireland junior final while their senior colleagues Loughgiel Shamrocks meet Mount Leinster Rangers in their All Ireland semi-final on Saturday week, it is not expected that either county will have a significant appetite for Sunday's provincial fray.
Indeed, both teams are expected to be short a number of experienced players for the final.
It is understood that the Down v Kildare Kehoe Cup semi-final will now be played at a later date with the final likely to be deferred.
The Ulster final was originally due to take place on Sunday July 7 2013, but was re-fixed for November 3 at the request of Down who were coming off the back of an exhaustive Christy Ring Cup campaign.
The final didn't go ahead in November either as it fell within the GAA's closed season for inter-county teams.
The possibility of another postponement caused considerable anxiety for the Ulster Council yesterday who will surely wish to see the curtain come down on the competition on Sunday having already indicated that a repetition of this scenario is extremely unlikely in the future.
Meanwhile two of Down's longest-serving players are preparing for their 14th National Football League campaigns – but from remarkably contrasting backdrops.
While ace forward Benny Coulter has chalked up 80 appearances in the league for the Mourne county, utility player Liam Doyle will enter Saturday's opener against Monaghan cushioned by precisely half that number despite his debut having coincided with that of Coulter.
And it's Coulter who provides Doyle, who has suffered a number of injuries down through the years, with his biggest ration of encouragement on the threshold of yet another campaign.
"Liam has bounced back time and again from injuries and has shown superb commitment to Down," points out Coulter.
"He sets a great example and his courage and commitment are a lesson to us all. The hope of everyone is that he can avoid further injury this year and play a big part in hopefully bringing our team success."
Now in his fifth year in charge, James McCartan has still to deliver a significant trophy although injuries and unavailability have played havoc with his selection plans over the past two years in particular.
"We are going in against Monaghan who are the Ulster champions on Saturday and obviously it's important that we try and win our home league games. This is an important match and hopefully we will have more playing resources available to us," says McCartan.