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Ulster series still a cut above the rest, maintains Council chief Declan Woods

 

On fire: The current form of Michael Murphy (centre) is one of the reasons why Donegal are among the favourites to win the Ulster title
On fire: The current form of Michael Murphy (centre) is one of the reasons why Donegal are among the favourites to win the Ulster title
Declan Woods
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Leading Ulster Council official Declan Woods is taking issue with the detractors who believe that the days of provincial Championships could be numbered.

And while Woods accepts that Dublin's 'drive for five' will dominate the GAA agenda during the summer, he is quick to emphasise that the Ulster Senior Football Championship is still the best of all the provincial competitions.

"It is the best by a country mile," insisted Woods. "No matter what way you look at it, there are a considerable number of teams who will be thinking they have a decent chance of winning this year's Ulster Championship.

"I would not like to be telling any of them that they won't because the hop of a ball can often decide Championship matches and particularly derby ties."

Woods is convinced that Ulster is blessed with what he describes as "an incredible Championship draw" this year.

"I think the pairings will create massive excitement and show the great rivalry that is the hallmark of our Championship," stated Woods. "The great thing about the Ulster series is that any one of a number of teams could win it. This does not quite apply in the other provinces.

"I think that all Ulster sides are bent on going out to play 70 minutes of impassioned Championship football. There will be great fervour and drama and why wouldn't there be when you have Tyrone meeting Derry, Down taking on Armagh and Monaghan meeting Cavan?"

The recent Allianz Football League underlined that attendances have been dropping and while Woods accepts that this can happen at certain periods of the year, he is confident the fans will be out in their thousands over the next two months.

"I think, to be fair, in last year's Championship that some of the pairings and the quality of the fare did not do a lot to draw in the crowds but while you can do all the best planning and the highest quality marketing, it does not guarantee you that people will come through the turnstiles," conceded Woods.

"But I think we have hit the jackpot in terms of our pairings this year and this will elicit a phenomenal response. Maybe that's a big statement but I feel that it will prove a reality."

Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan are the recognised frontrunners in the title race.

The Red Hands' impressive climax to the league and the form of Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane in particular, and Donegal's surge into Division One triggered chiefly through the form of Michael Murphy, Ryan McHugh, Jamie Brennan and Eoghan Ban Gallagher, serves to thrust these two sides into strong positions from which they can challenge for the Anglo-Celt Cup.

"Arguably Ulster can look forward to a fascinating Championship but can also hold its head high in terms of potential representation in the Super 8s," added Woods.

"We have a province full of household names and I think that's always a great test of our overall resources. Across our nine counties we have players to whom kids look up to and I see this as a great sign of the strength of our game overall."

Meanwhile, the Ulster Council have confirmed ticket prices for provincial Championship matches.

In some cases, ticket prices will be frozen as the Council bid to attract fans through the turnstiles.

Chief executive Brian McAvoy emphasises that value for money has been a top priority for the Council in setting the prices.

"Ulster GAA has taken feedback from stakeholders on last year and felt that there was merit in separating ticket prices for first round/quarter-final games and semi-final games. Accordingly, stand ticket prices for the first round and quarter-final games have been reduced by up to 17%, with a pre-purchased ticket now only £20/€25," stated McAvoy.

"There will also be reductions in open stand prices for the games in Kingspan Breffni and Brewster Park. The price of a terrace ticket has been frozen for all games, as have all ticket prices for semi-finals and the Ulster final on June 23. We want to provide ticketing offers and options to as many of our loyal county supporters as possible."

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