Joe Kernan: GAA chiefs hope Ulster title race will pull in crowds again
Better weather, longer daylight hours and a keen sense of anticipation in the air all combine to mean only one thing — the Ulster Championship is just around the corner.
But while the nine county teams start to really focus on the flagship competition, there is also anxiety on the part of Ulster Council and county board officials.
Their hope is that crowds will improve and the traditional championship atmosphere will prevail against the backdrop of the ongoing recession.
The high cost of petrol and diesel, the rather modest fare that has been served up to date and the increased number of live televised ties mean that many fans may think twice before travelling to games.
Some of the more attractive fixtures in the National League have not attracted the fans in big numbers but the hope is that the Championship will prove the real carrot.
The Armagh-Down tie is the pick of the early crop of fixtures. And as it is being staged on a Saturday night this gives it additional appeal.
It is not the only fixture that will have allure in the province, though. The meeting of Monaghan and Tyrone in Omagh will be interesting given that this will be a re-run of last year’s Ulster final, while Fermanagh can put their recent travails behind them when they face Derry and Antrim will go to Donegal encouraged by the fact that they pulled off a shock result in Ballybofey two years ago.