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Lack of a competitive edge hurting Ulster Championship once again

By Declan Bogue

Published 01/06/2016

Walkover: Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney after his side’s heavy defeat to Cavan
Walkover: Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney after his side’s heavy defeat to Cavan

After the fevered build-up to the second Ulster Championship match of 2016, an awful lot was riding on the clash between Derry and Tyrone.

All week, media outlets of every kind plugged into a sense that this was an ancient rivalry.

In reality, apart from a few spiky and spiteful meetings in the Ulster Championships of the mid-90s and a shock in 2006, it was a house built on sand.

Sitting in the press box before the game, however, we were all infected by the build-up. Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney, on duty as co-commentator, turned to me and said: "The Ulster Championship takes far too long, they should have launched it with this game and got more of a buzz at the start."

And then the Red Hands went and won at their leisure, just as Fermanagh had done seven days earlier.

Last Sunday was probably the easiest win of all, when Cavan merely swept away Armagh to win by eight points.

The Sunday Game hasn't really much of a tradition of creating the conditions for a sensible debate, but their graphic of winning margins brings home a truth that people can no longer afford to ignore.

The only games that have gone to the wire this season were Roscommon's heart-stopping escape from New York and Kildare's win over Wexford, both settled by the minimum margin.

For the other 10 games, the average victory margin is 8.6 points. Most of those encounters had been settled by half-time. The idea of the underdog having a big day in the Championship is becoming quaint and redundant. At the heart of this is a competition that features teams having to do vastly different things to reach the last eight.

An argument can be made that TG4 and Setanta have the best deal going by televising the National League, where teams meet every week and compete against sides of commensurate ability.

This Championship is already suffering. But who expected it to be any different?

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