Tyrone in fight to hang on to title
A leading GAA administrator predicts that the forthcoming Ulster Championship can help cultivate what he describes as “a much-needed feelgood factor” within the community.
Provincial secretary Danny Murphy is confident that the competition will spark considerable enthusiasm and will encourage people to put their financial and other worries on hold at least on a temporary basis.
Murphy, who will help to formally launch the Championship at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast on Thursday week just three days before Antrim and Donegal set the ball rolling, believes the competition holds rich promise.
“I have said consistently in the past that the Ulster Championship is one of the best competitions in the overall fixtures calendar and I see no reason to change that view,” states Murphy.
And he goes on: “Even though the National Leagues provided joy for some Ulster sides and disappointment for others every team is now imbued with fresh optimism.
“We all know that championship football brings its own levels of passion, commitment and intensity and I think that our competition this year will also help to generate a feel-good factor.”
Murphy points to the particularly harsh winter and the downtown in the economy as having occasioned widespread gloom but he is of the opinion that top-flight championship football in peak summer, while not necessarily a panacea for all ills, will provide a welcome distraction from everyday cares.
“We have a very tantalising first-round championship draw in Ulster. After Donegal and Antrim meet, Derry and Fermanagh will cross swords before the clash of Armagh and Down,” comments Murphy.
It’s the latter fixture in particular that, in Murphy’s opinion, holds national, never mind provincial, appeal.
“Form can go out the window when it comes to a local derby like this. Down may have reached last year’s All-Ireland final but Armagh have had the upper hand on them in championship meetings in recent years,” he points out.
Down boss James McCartan will oversee challenge games against Cavan and Offaly this weekend as his team’s championship build-up is intensified.
But long-serving forward Benny
Coulter will not see action because of a pulled hamstring while skipper Ambrose Rogers, who returned to club action as a substitute for Longstone against An Riocht on Thursday night, is still some way off provincial championship match fitness.
Tyrone, with Philip Jordan having pledged himself to the cause, will begin their quest for a third successive crown when they face Monaghan on June 5 and Murphy endorses the view of their manager Mickey Harte that a provincial title is still cherished by players following suggestions such an honour has lost some of its value.
The winners of the Donegal v Antrim match will meet Cavan in the last of the quarter-finals on June 12 while the first semi-final will be played on June 19 when Derry or Fermanagh will face Down or Armagh.
The second semi-final between Tyrone or Monaghan and the eventual winners from the Cavan/Donegal/Antrim triangle will be played on June 26.
The Ulster final is down for decision on July 17.