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Final chapter in Ulster quartet's bid for silverware

By John Campbell

Antrim and Derry - the acknowledged top teams in Ulster - may not have their sorrows to seek in the hurling sphere right now but that should not detract from the fact that the sport is flourishing at a lower tier.

Proof of this will be provided today when four sides from the province - Armagh, Down, Fermanagh and Monaghan - bid to land divisional honours in the Allianz League.

It's not often that the Down and Armagh hurlers nudge their football brethren out of the spotlight but that is now the case.

The counties will meet at Dowdallshill, Dundalk (2pm) in the Division 2B final.

When the teams crossed swords earlier in the league, Down just managed to come out on top and it's hardly surprising that manager Michael Johnston is very much on his guard.

"Armagh put it up to us the last day and will feel they can do even better this time," insisted Johnston, himself a former Orchard County boss. "I'm aware of their strengths and commitment but we have to look at our own game. There is a lot at stake."

His team has been consistent to date with Caolan Bailie, Daniel Toner, Scott Nicholson and Chris Egan prominent.

For their part, Armagh have also racked up some impressive totals with Ryan Gaffney, Cathal Carvill, Declan Coulter and Nathan Currie to the fore.

Armagh liaison officer Liam Ross believes that the team has matured but sees today's final as a seminal test for the side.

"This is a big challenge. We would love to gain promotion but we will really have to be on our toes because Down will be very hungry," stated Ross.

Meanwhile, Fermanagh face a stern examination at the hands of a rejuvenated Longford side in the Division 3B final at Markievicz Park, Sligo (2pm).

Fermanagh have already beaten the midland side in the competition (3-17 to 3-13) but this will not give any sort of psychological advantage.

Fermanagh spokesman Pauric McGurn said: "Our aim will be to get promotion but Longford have shown that they are very durable. They will have their eyes on improving their status.

"It would be a great boost for our county if we were to win promotion in both hurling and football but that is a tall order."

In their last league outing, the Erne beat Leitrim 2-16 to 1-11 with Sean Corrigan, Conor McShea, John Duffy, Ryan Bogue and John Paul McGarry shining.

Monaghan will have their work cut out against a strong, physical Roscommon side if they are to win the Division 3A final.

Monaghan's mix of youth and experience has proved potent but they will be up against a well-drilled side and will be keen to take a leaf from their football team, who have been setting their league alight of late.

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