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McGrath sets sights on Ulster double to honour late Murphy

By John Campbell

When adverse weather ruled out last year’s Inter-provincial Football Championship, Fermanagh ace Eoin Donnelly was denied the opportunity of captaining Ulster for the first time.

But everything comes to those who wait and the soft-spoken Donnelly will finally get the chance to skipper his province when they take on Munster in the semi-final at Parnell Park, Dublin tomorrow (2pm).

Ulster manager Pete McGrath watched his Select XV take on a Fermanagh side at Tyrone’s Centre of Excellence at Garvaghey and has since expressed satisfaction with his team’s preparations for a match against a Munster side which will be without Kerry personnel who are currently on a team holiday.

But McGrath believes that the absence of Kingdom faces will not necessarily tip the scales in his side’s favour.

“When you look at it, Cork, Tipperary and Clare all boast a lot of good footballers and I am sure Munster will call upon them,” stated McGrath. “Tipperary reached the All-Ireland semi-finals this year, remember, so we know what to expect.”

A number of marquee players may be missing from the Ulster squad but McGrath is certainly not wringing his hands in frustration.

Instead, he points to what he believes is “real quality” within his squad as he shows his traditional enthusiasm for the challenge ahead.

“When you are talking about players like Peter Harte, Tiarnan McCann, Charlie Vernon, Niall McKeever, Tomas Corrigan and of course Eoin Donnelly, you are referencing real quality,” maintained McGrath.

“I know that they and all the rest of the players are proud to be involved in this Ulster squad and that means I can depend on them to give their best.”

But while McGrath has grounds for optimism, his hurling counterpart Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton has cause for concern as he too prepares to confront a Munster semi-final challenge.

McNaughton stated: “Obviously because of the current status of teams like Antrim, Down, Derry and Armagh, this means that their players do not get the chance to test themselves against real quality opponents. That will be the case against Munster, so it’s a huge challenge.”

On the plus side, he points to the progress that Antrim forward duo Ciaran Clarke and Ciaran Johnston and defender Paddy Burke have made and lauds the versatility of Down’s Conor Woods.

It would surely be appropriate if Ulster were to land a double coup on the weekend that former Ulster Council secretary and CEO Danny Murphy is laid to rest having championed the inter-pro cause for many years when others were calling for the competition to be scrapped.

McGrath added: “We will have Danny in our thoughts. He played a big part in keeping Ulster to the fore both on and off the field of play down through the years.

“It would be great if we could land a double win to honour his memory. He gave a lot to Ulster, after all.”

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