New bosses will shake up Ulster title battle: McManus
One of Ulster's top players is predicting that the influx of new county team bosses will lend an added dimension to the provincial championship in 2018.
Conor McManus, who has shared in two recent Ulster championship triumphs with Monaghan (2013 and 2015), believes that the arrival of fresh faces on the touchline will spark even bigger interest in the competition.
Only recently Kerry legend Pat Spillane declared that the Ulster championship had lost much of its appeal and competitiveness, suggesting that it might not regain its former status in his eyes.
But McManus, who has just been named as the outstanding Irish player in the recent International Rules series, is convinced that not only will the desire of the new bosses to make an impact help to fire up the provincial series, but the attractive carrot of a place in the new money-spinning quarter-finals format will also further embellish the province's flagship competition.
"I have heard the Ulster championship downplayed in some quarters, but when you look at the calibre of the new managers that have come on board and are obviously keen to take their respective counties to success, you just know that they are going to bring something to the table," insists McManus.
"While I am delighted to have won a couple of championship medals with Monaghan, I know how hard it is going to be in 2018 to make headway in the Ulster championship. Our first match is against Tyrone who will be going for a hat-trick of titles - I ask you, can it get any harder than that for us?"
And Clontibret clubman McManus is convinced that Lenny Harbinson (Antrim), Declan Bonner (Donegal), Damian McErlain (Derry) and Rory Gallagher (Fermanagh) will be strongly focused on making significant progress.
"Obviously there is a lot of football to be played between now and the start of the championship but, when you look at things, the championship is really what it is all about no matter what anyone says," raps McManus.
"Every team wants to peak for the championship and there are going to be bigger demands on sides this year because of the round-robin quarter-finals format. This will be a new challenge for us all."
McManus believes that the new managers will have their sights on getting their teams off the mark quickly in the Dr McKenna Cup and then striking out for points early in the Allianz League.
"Maybe in the past teams might have eased their way into the season but that day is gone," he declares. "Teams are looking to hit the ground running and stay that way. Look at the way in which Tyrone have won the McKenna Cup for the last six years, that shows you their level of intent. And with the last two Ulster titles in their pocket, do you think they will want to relinquish their champions tag? Not a chance."
McManus is convinced, too, that Harbinson, Bonner, McErlain and Gallagher will bring their different attributes into the spotlight and this will help give what he describes as "a new feel" to the championship.
"I think it's great that these men are prepared to put their heads above the parapet and do their best for the counties with which they are involved," states McManus. "I know managers get criticised but they are owed a debt of gratitude.
"Certainly we in Monaghan are grateful for what Malachy O'Rourke, a proud Fermanagh man, has done for us. He has reinvigorated our county, instilled fresh belief in the players and delighted our supporters."