What is by far the most attractive pairing in the first round of the 2011 Ulster senior football championship — the meeting of this year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists Down and their neighbours Armagh on Saturday May 28 — was last night confirmed for the Athletic Grounds, Armagh (it will be re-named by then) with a 7.00pm throw-in.
This will be Armagh’s first home championship match since 1996 and it will undoubtedly be an all-ticket affair with the 20,000 capacity of the city venue stretched to the absolute limit.
Down manager James McCartan and his Armagh counterpart Paddy O’Rourke were colleagues in the Mourne county side that won All-Ireland glory in 1991 and with the teams due to meet in Division One of the National League before then, the build-up to the championship tie will be of the highest possible intensity.
“Obviously this will be a massive match for us given that Armagh will be at home for the first time for so long but it should be well worth the wait,” said Armagh manager O’Rourke.
Reigning Ulster champions Tyrone, will be seeking to land a hat-trick of titles, will host Monaghan, now under Eamon McEnaney, at Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday June 5th. (3.30pm)
Monaghan imploded this year having initially threatened to take the Ulster championship by storm when they walloped Armagh at Casement Park and now face a gigantic task against Mickey Harte’s troops.
Two new bosses, Jim McGuinness (Donegal) and John Brennan (Derry), will see their sides host Antrim and Fermanagh respectively at home.
The full list of Ulster championship dates and venues is:
Ulster Senior Football Championship: Sun May 15: Donegal v Antrim (Ballybofey 3.30pm), Sun May 22: Derry v Fermanagh (Celtic Park 3.30pm), Sat May 28: Armagh v Down (Armagh 7.00pm), Sun June 5: Tyrone v Monaghan (Omagh 3.30pm).
Sun June 12: Cavan v Donegal or Antrim (Venue to be decided).
Sun June 19: First semi-final: Derry or Fermanagh v Armagh or Down (2.00pm), Sun June 26: second semi-final; Tyrone or Monaghan v Cavan or Donegal or Antrim.
Sun July 17: Final.
Ulster Senior Hurling Championship: Sat May 14 First Rd: Donegal v Down, Tyrone v Derry, Fermanagh v Armagh, Cavan v Monaghan. Sat May 28: Quarter-Finals; Donegal or Down v Tyrone or Derry; Fermanagh or Armagh v Cavan or Monaghan. Sun June 12: Semi-finals
Sun June 26: Final (Casement Park).
Ulster U21 Football Championship (All games 8.00pm): March 9: First Rd: Derry v Armagh.
March 16: Quarter-finals: Fermanagh v Cavan, Donegal v Antrim, Down v Tyrone, Monaghan v Derry or Armagh.
March 23: Semi-Finals: Fermanagh or cavan v Donegal ro Antrim, Down or Tyrone v Monaghan/Derry/Armagh.
Ulster Senior, Intermediate and Junior Club Football Championship dates: October 16: First Round; October 30: Quarter-Finals, Nov 13 – Semi-Finals, November 27 – Finals.