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Peter McGrath accepts inter-pro problems

By John Campbell

The inter-provincial football and hurling championships are destined to have a nomadic existence in the annual fixtures calendar for the foreseeable future.

That's the view of Ulster team manager Peter McGrath as he prepares to put the final touches to his preparations for Saturday's semi-final against Connacht at a squad session in the Tyrone Centre of Excellence at Garvaghey tonight.

For several years now, the competition has been accommodated on different dates and now that it is to be shoe-horned into what is the last two weeks of the playing year, McGrath is convinced that finding a fixed slot in what is already an annual fixtures log-jam will continue to prove difficult.

"I know that there is a lot of debate in relation to fixtures planning and that this is an issue which is very much in vogue at the minute, but I cannot help feeling that there is no ideal time in the overall fixtures calendar as things stand in which the inter-provincials can be staged," said McGrath.

"There are obviously proposals on the table in relation to fixtures planning and it remains to see what progress can be made on this front, but as things stand the inter-pro series is liable to be shifted around.

"Obviously players have a lot of commitments and I can understand why it is not easy to fit in another competition.

"However, we are where we are and certainly Ulster will be going all out to win the title this weekend."

McGrath is taking considerable heart from the fact that players such as Tony Kernan and Mattie Donnelly are among those who have thrust themselves to the fore in Ulster's challenge for honours.

Kernan was man of the match when Crossmaglen Rangers overcame Scotstown in last Sunday's Ulster Club championship final, while Donnelly has represented Trillick, Tyrone and Ireland this year to date in what has been a hectic personal fixtures itinerary and is hoping to be included in the Ulster team for Saturday's match.

"I honestly love to be playing matches and while I was very disappointed that Trillick lost to Scotstown in the Ulster club final, I must admit it was a great thrill for me to be part of the Ireland side that beat Australia in the International Rules shortly afterwards," said Donnelly.

"Now I am looking forward to representing Ulster in the inter-pro series.

"Playing in matches is what you train for and to my mind nothing beats playing.

"I think when you are in good team environments, such as those I have been fortunate enough to enjoy this year, then that encourages you to do your very best.

"When you are winning it becomes extra special and I hope that Ulster come out on top in the inter-pro series. I have not found this year to be demanding at all - indeed, I have found it to be a pleasure and a privilege to be involved with four different teams all of which aspire to the highest standards."

Last year Ulster suffered an unexpected reversal in the inter-pro final when they were heavily beaten by Connacht (2-19 to 1-7) and this has added extra spice to Saturday's semi-final.

Ulster have won the competition on seven occasions since 2000 whereas Connacht's 2014 triumph was their first since 1969.

Manager McGrath, who guided Down to All-Ireland glory in 1991 and 1994 and has this year revitalised the fortunes of Fermanagh, is determined to see football in the province shown in the best possible light this weekend.

"This is an opportunity for the players to challenge themselves. I know that the Leinster team will not contain any Dublin players and that Connacht and Munster might also be missing some key players just as we ourselves are, but the fact of the matter is that when the whistle goes, we will have four teams going into action with their sights set on the trophy," said McGrath.

"With the semi-finals taking place in Armagh and Newry and then the final going ahead at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday, this will give followers here the chance to see some of the best players in the country in action."

Belfast Telegraph


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