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Flicking off switch could turn up heat on Championship

By Declan Bogue

After the quietest April in inter-county memory, there was definitely something in the air in the O'Neill's Superstore in Strabane on Monday night.

In the past, the Ulster Council have launched their flagship competition in venues as varied as the Canal Court in Newry, the Titanic Building in Belfast and the City Hotel in Derry.

Nobody could have known how a launch in a shop might have worked, but there was a keen sense of anticipation in the air in Tyrone. The good weather, along with the walls festooned in county jerseys and flags, gave it an entirely different feel and it was a tremendous success.

Everywhere you looked there were storylines. Armagh representatives, selector Jim McCorry and player Aaron McKay, were looking bronzed and healthy after a weekend spent in Portugal at their warm-weather training camp.

Ryan McMenamin was there representing the Fermanagh management, wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team T-shirt, a subtle reminder that McMenamin, as 'Tyrone' as he is, was once a kid in a Dromore Primary School trying to knock off the Canadian edges from his accent after spending his early childhood there.

On evenings such as these, with radio, internet, press and television journalists all swarming around their prey, looking to pick up the juicy quote, the Ulster Championship feels like the centre of the sporting universe.

However, due to the vagaries of television commitments, it will have a slightly different feel in the grounds of Ulster in the coming months.

As revealed in last Tuesday's Belfast Telegraph, the inability of BBC NI to show matches from the provincial Championship - hamstrung as they are and hostage to the whims of RTÉ commitments - will mean that, unless there are last-minute arrangements for deferred coverage or the red button is salvaged, the only way to see games is to attend them.

Naturally, this has met with a lot of anger. For those of us guaranteed the tickets and the press seats though, it will be extremely interesting.

"I think it will add to the atmosphere," said Tyrone boss Mickey Harte about their quarter-final against Monaghan being off the television schedules on Sunday, May 20.

"People do like to sometimes take it handy and sit and watch the TV, but when they can't watch it live on TV there is an attraction to be there and you would love to imagine it will be a beautiful warm day and there will be some crowd and an atmosphere."

If you want to see the game, you have to get along. It should go some way to driving up the attendances and creating a frisson.

It could be, by law of unintended consequences, a roaring success.

Belfast Telegraph

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