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Ulster Championship there for the taking


Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

The onset of press nights and the prospect of live television every Sunday is a sure sign that the Championship 2010 is only days away.

It’s a time for followers of the sport to dream of what the summer might hold, success, glory, disappointment and even heartbreak before even a ball has been kicked.

The league has been consigned to history and with it those dark, wet dreary days, to be replaced by colour and passion and hopefully by new heroes who will grab the headlines in the weeks and months ahead.

Last year provided little in the way of joy for Ulster teams in the All Ireland championship, except perhaps for Armagh’s first minor success in 60 years, but the onset of summer offers a time for hope, a hope that will be shared by so many counties.

Martin McHugh maintains it’s the most open Championship in years and few would argue with that assessment.

Three times All Ireland winners Tyrone are rarely out of the spotlight and it would be a brave man who would bet against them.

Yes there are reservations. Do the older men who brought honour and glory to the county in the not too distant past still have the hunger to mount a serious challenge for both the Anglo Celt and the Sam Maguire or have their well publicised injuries taken too great a toll?

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And yet Mickey Harte’s men seem to have developed the knack of thriving on adversity and with the benefit of the safety net will again be in contention when the major prizes are being handed out.

Armagh’s win over Down in the Allianz League Division Two decider was a decisive step in their rehabilitation after months of controversy and unrest.

But there is a massive difference between beating Down in Croke Park and having to cross swords with a more abrasive and physical Derry in Celtic Park. Sunday’s outcome will reveal so much about the relative merits of both sides.

Antrim are in a somewhat similar situation. They will relish the battle with Tyrone, but ultimately may have to settle for the back door route.

If Derry prevail in Celtic Park then the house full signs will be up for their quarter-final against old adversaries Monaghan with either side well capable of making the Ulster decider.

Donegal too will fancy their chances of overcoming Down, but it’s doubtful if they can sustain a meaningful Championship challenge leaving Fermanagh to advance to the last four with victory over Cavan, who continue to struggle under manager Tommy Carr.

The general consensus is that it’s the most open Championship for many years.

Some will argue with considerable conviction that’s no bad thing while others maintain there has been a levelling of standards.

So far the whole emphasis has been on the Ulster Championship with little mention of the biggest prize of all the Sam Maguire.

Hopefully that situation will change in the weeks and months ahead and Ulster will see a team emerge well enough equipped to take on the main contenders.

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