Scoring flair will be on menu to satisfy GAA fans' appetite
Stand by for a score-fest bonanza! That was the confident prediction from provincial Director Danny Murphy at last night's launch of the Ulster Senior Football Championship.
As the countdown continues to the flagship competition, Murphy is convinced that both the quantity and quality of scoring by teams from the province in the Allianz League can approve the springboard for even greater levels of marksmanship over the coming weeks.
A tantalising draw that threw some appetising fixtures, especially the clash of Donegal and Tyrone on May 26, had already served to whet appetites but the recent catalogue of impressive scoring achievements has lent further appeal to what is regarded as the best of all the provincial tournaments.
And Murphy believes that even more spectacular scoring achievements are now in the pipeline – a prospect that could see last year's impressive attendance figures bettered.
"Some of the Ulster sides have returned superb scores in recent weeks and I think this reflects greatly on the overall quality of football in the province," points out Murphy.
"It was tremendous to see Tyrone, Derry and Monaghan in the league divisional finals although we have to counter that by accepting that the demotion of Donegal, Down and Antrim was a disappointment."
The Ulster chief acknowledges that scoring flair is the most crucial factor in determining the success of any competition and he rates recent returns of sides from the province as "an excellent omen" for the championship series.
"Monaghan landed 2-16 against Meath, Derry got 1-18 against Westmeath and Tyrone recorded 0-17 in going under to Dublin by a point and you can't ask for much better finishing than that," he added.
"It is worth remembering that Armagh scored 0-21 in their last league game against Galway and Down got 3-8 against Kildare on the same day.
"These are the kind of scores that would be guaranteed to win the majority of championship matches."
Yet while more high scores would appear to be on the menu, runaway victories will be at a premium, according to Murphy.
"I think that we are in for a series of close-run games," he stresses.
"It would be a brave person who would vote on the outcome of the Cavan versus Armagh preliminary round tie, there is nothing to choose between Tyrone and Donegal in the next game, Derry's tie against Down should be a cracker and Antrim will be very keen to prove themselves when they meet Monaghan."
Fermanagh will be the last team to see action as they will meet the winners of the Cavan v Armagh preliminary round tie on June 16.
"Peter Canavan will have Fermanagh at concert pitch and I think that we could then end up with two very tasty semi-finals – but I wouldn't be prepared to say just who might be meeting who," smiles Murphy.
While teams have been racking up big scores lately, Murphy points to the fact that there have been some "quite amazing" individual contributions which have enhanced the latter stages of the league action in particular.
James Kielt (Derry), Michael Murphy (Donegal), Conor McManus (Monaghan) and Stephen O'Neill (Tyrone) are among players who brought an extra dimension to league fare through the quality of their finishing.