Ulster sides tipped to taste more success
The last decade has proven the most successful in the history of gaelic football in Ulster.
The All-Ireland Senior Football Championship has been captured on five occasions since 2002, the Allianz League crown has been won five times, the inter-provincial crown was garnered on six occasions and a shoal of under-age and schools' honours helped to make it a memorable era from every perspective.
Now Ulster Council chairman Martin McAviney wants to see this level of success carried over into the next decade.
"I feel that while the bar has been raised for teams from the province the ability and the commitment are there to meet this challenge," says McAviney who was a VIP guest at last night's launch of the Ulster Football Championship at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.
It was Armagh who set the ball rolling for Ulster's period of dominance by winning 'Sam' in 2002 with Tyrone then claiming the major trophy in 2003, '05 and '08 while Donegal captured the 'big one' for the second time in their history last year.
Armagh of course remain the dominant force in Ulster having won seven provincial titles since 1999 but while McAviney lauds what has been achieved on the domestic stage, he is anxious to see the province gain even more honours in the All-Ireland sector.
When the Ulster GAA Writers' Association banquet took place in Bundoran last December, the parade of All-Ireland champions immediately prior to the function included no less than 22 winning captains spanning all codes and levels. "I think this was a superb indicator of where Ulster is at but it's most important that we maintain this ratio of success," states McAviney.
"There is no doubt that the GAA is flourishing and it is generally agreed that All-Ireland success is the real barometer of the state of the game in any individual province."
McAviney suggests that the province's coaching structures, overall facilities and volunteer ethic are stronger than ever.
"There is a great dynamic within the GAA and this will be very much in evidence over the course of the Ulster Championship," says McAviney. "We have the All-Ireland champions, the beaten Allianz League finalists as well as the newly-crowned Division Two and Division Three champions in our line-up and this gives an indication of the depth of talent that will be on display. Our grounds are on a par with the best venues in the country and I know that the fans will respond in their thousands."
Even though some of the games will be screened live on television, Ulster Council Director Danny Murphy is adamant that last year's championship slogan 'Nothing beats being there' will, if anything, be even more applicable this time round.
"There is definitely nothing to beat being part of the atmosphere, colour and pageantry of an Ulster championship match. The competition has a flavour all of its own," he declares.