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Ulster all out to retain title: Kernan

Ulster football team manager Joe Kernan promises that a concerted bid will be made to retain the inter-provincial championship title despite concerns that the competition requires the kiss of life.

Kernan, a long-time advocate of the tournament, is conscious that Leinster have stepped up their preparations considerably by arranging a challenge game against Meath on Friday.

Leinster have a particularly strong management team in place with former Dublin boss Pat Gilroy and his No 2 Mickey Whelan being joined by four-times All Ireland winning Meath manager Sean Boylan.

But while Kernan would welcome warm-up games, he acknowledges that this is not possible.

“We have Monaghan and Tyrone players engaged in the build-up to Saturday’s McKenna Cup final, others are with their universities and still others such as Ambrose Rogers, Danny Hughes and Gerard O’Kane are all out injured at this point in time,” explains Kernan.

“I hope to be able to confirm my squad later in the week but obviously the other provinces see us as being up there to be knocked down.”

Kernan, though, has already confirmed that Monaghan’s Darren Hughes will lead the side again. The Ulster boss was at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday to see Hughes power over two majestic late points that eased his county to victory over Down in the McKenna Cup semi-final.

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“Darren was always going to be my skipper and his performance on Sunday underscored just what a fantastic player he really is,” maintains Kernan, “He led the Ulster side splendidly to success last year and he is just the man for the job.”

Ulster will play Munster at the Athletic Grounds Armagh on Sunday February 17 in what will be a re-run of last year’s final.

“Munster took that match extremely seriously and I have no doubt that they will be very keen to put one over us this time round. They have a broad base of players from which to choose and I would like to think that we will have a team capable of challenging them,” adds Kernan.

In a week it which it has been suggested that the inter-pro series should be axed from the fixtures calendar, Kernan is hopeful that fans will come out in encouraging numbers to the semi-finals and final.

“I know for a fact that the players in all four provinces are very committed to the competition and now it is up to the fans to show their support for what I feel is a very exciting and worthwhile tournament.

“I believe that if decent numbers come out to watch the games then this will surely be a telling endorsement of the appeal of the competition,” points out Kernan.

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