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By Staff Reporter

Antrim - Management: Frankie Fitzsimmons has decided he is better off with some help for his second year, bringing in Gearoid Adams as co-manager. Former boxing champion Brian Magee took over from Mick McGurn for the strength and conditioning work.

Form Guide: WWWWL - Promoted to Division Three as Division Four finalists, losing the final to Louth.

Key Man: Michael McCann will float between his bearings at full-forward and midfield.

Captain: St Gall’s creator Kevin Niblock has shipped numerous knocks but played through the pain barrier.

Big Loss: Sean Burke is struggling with injury.

Bookie’s Odds: 150/1 for Ulster, 1,500/1 to win the All-Ireland. No Leicester story.

VERDICT: Preliminary round exit. Hoping for a favourable qualifiers draw.

Armagh

Management: Kieran McGeeney is in his second year as head honcho, and is assisted by Peter McDonnell and Denis Hollywood. Julie Davis remains as strength and conditioning coach.

Form Guide: WLDDW - Relegated to Division Three.

Key Man: As boldly promised, Stefan Campbell has emerged as ‘the man’ in the absence of others. His injury-free run has helped showcase his talents.

Captain: Ciaran McKeever has played very little, but is still the leader of this group.

Big Loss: Jamie Clarke taking his talents to New York is a serious blow.

Bookie’s Odds: 18/1 to win Ulster, 150/1 for the All-Ireland. Keep your money in your pocket.

VERDICT: Can’t see them surviving their visit to Kingspan Breffni Park.

Cavan

Management: Terry Hyland is the second-longest inter-county football manager behind Mickey Harte, with five Championship seasons in sole charge after his collaboration with Val Andrews.

Form Guide: WWWWL - Promoted to Division One.

Key Man: Killian Clarke is the kind of play-anywhere athlete that every county envies.

Captain: Gearoid McKiernan has been released to centre-forward and when he plays well, he raises the performance of all around him.

Big Loss: Barry Reilly was a huge hope but only Kingscourt are benefiting. 

Bookie’s Odds: Dark horses at 7/1 for an Ulster title and we wouldn’t put it beyond them, 100/1 for All-Ireland.

VERDICT: Could meet Tyrone in an Ulster semi-final, and it depends on what they have learned from their league final loss. Dangerous.

Derry

Management: Damian Barton is in his first year in charge and has Brian McGuckin and Tony Scullion as selectors, while Eoghan Bradley looks after the muscle end of things.

Form Guide: LLDDL - Survived in Division Two.

Key Man: Mark Lynch has a galvanising effect on those around him.

Captain: Chris McKaigue. If you need a job done well, you give it to a busy man. Between club and county and hurling commitments, there are no concerns over his match sharpness.

Big Loss: He might just be a casualty of the commitments required for inter-county football, but any team could do with a fully-firing Eoin Bradley.

Bookie’s Odds: A remarkably tight-priced 7/1 for Ulster, 66/1 for Sam Maguire. Best avoided.

VERDICT: Derry need unity and an extended run in the back-door after defeat to Tyrone on May 22.

Donegal

Management: Rory Gallagher enters his second year as boss after three years as assistant to Jim McGuinness. Jack Cooney and Maxi Curran are his selectors.

Form Guide: LLLLL - Division One semi-finalists.

Key Man: As ever, it is Michael Murphy. The games he doesn’t play tend to be the ones Donegal lose.

Captain: The same Murphy is now in his sixth season as Donegal captain, and it’s not hard to see why.

Big Loss: Paul Durcan’s presence in Qatar really could make the difference between this squad challenging for an All-Ireland or just hoping for honours.

Bookie’s Odds: Joint-favourites with Tyrone for Ulster at 9/4, but 20/1 for Sam is on the high end of the scale for a side that were in the final two years ago.

VERDICT: Horrible form, but have enjoyed the long break. Top contenders for Ulster, but that’s it.

Down

Management: Eamonn Burns is in his debut season, having served as selector for James McCartan in previous years. Aidan Branigan and Gerard Colgan are selectors.

Form Guide: LLLLL - Relegated from Division One.

Key Man: With Benny Coulter and Conor Laverty gone from the scene, Down require a big summer from Mark Poland.

Captain: It’s hard to believe that Kevin McKernan is only 28 now, and how little reward his county career has brought him.

Big Loss: Take your pick between Laverty and Coulter. Both brought a lot to the party, but don’t seem interested.

Bookie’s Odds: 20/1 for Ulster, 400/1 for the ultimate. If burning money is your thing, get on it.

VERDICT: Impossible to imagine them winning in Clones against Monaghan and hard to tell if they would have the stomach to regroup after that.

Fermanagh

Management: Two-time All-Ireland winner Pete McGrath is in the third season of his enjoyable managerial Indian Summer. Raymond Johnston is selector while Brian Treacy and Leon Carters are trainers.

Form Guide: LWLDD - Survived in Division Two.

Key Man: If Sean Quigley begins to fire this season, it might be seen as overdue as Tomás Corrigan has handled the bulk of the scoring responsibilities.

Captain: Erne county fans will be praying for the good health of Eoin Donnelly’s hamstring.

Big Loss: Ryan McCluskey’s hip injury will keep him out of the entire summer and his communication and organisation will be missed.

Bookie’s Odds: 33/1 for Ulster and 500/1 for an All-Ireland. Don’t even think about it.

VERDICT: Fermanagh are a coming team, but the draw is stacked against them.

Monaghan

Management: Malachy O’Rourke enters his fourth summer with the Oriel men. His coaching staff includes Leo McBride, Ryan Porter and Finbarr Fitzpatrick.

Form Guide: LLLLW - Survived in Division One.

Key Man: In the last three Ulster finals, Vinny Corey has dominated Donegal’s Michael Murphy. That will need to happen again.

Captain: There is possibly no greater finisher in the game than Conor McManus, and he provides bucket-loads of inspiration.

Big Loss: Eoin Lennon’s retirement due to injury hampers Monaghan for midfield cover.

Bookie’s Odds: Tucked in behind Donegal and Tyrone at 4/1 for Ulster, they are worth a flutter.

VERDICT: Well-balanced, experienced and with an under-rated management, Monaghan can defend their title and go on to reach the All-Ireland final.

Tyrone

Management: It’s the 14th season for the evergreen Mickey Harte. Gavin Devlin is his assistant, while Peter Donnelly takes on the majority of coaching.

Form Guide: WDDWW - Division Two league champions.

Key Man: It’s not a stretch to say that Colm Cavanagh (right) has developed into the most perceptive and alert sweeper in the game.

Captain: Sean Cavanagh is now in his 15th season and is testament to a lifetime of dedication.

Big Loss: Nobody of any great significance, but you sense the squad could do with a Conor Gormley or Ryan McMenamin.

Bookie’s Odds: Joint favourites with Donegal on 9/4 for Ulster and have assumed fourth rank for the All-Ireland at 12/1. Either of those two bets will work up a sweat.

VERDICT: Possible Ulster Champions, but a final against Monaghan is fraught with dangers.

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