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Ulster sides can stay on All Ireland glory route

By John Campbell

The draw for the quarter-finals of the All Ireland Football Championship will be made tomorrow night - and four other Ulster sides in addition to provincial title-holders Armagh are hoping to be in the frame.

Peter McDonnell's side will join Dublin, Cork and Galway on one side of the draw but it's the composition of the other side of the equation that is causing huge speculation and debate right now.

The crucial series of third round All Ireland qualifier ties spanning today and tomorrow - all at Headquarters, too - will almost certainly provide a solid indication as to just where the Sam Maguire Cup might eventually come to rest.

By tea-time tonight, Down and Tyrone should know if they will remain in the race for gaelic football's most coveted prize while by the same time tomorrow Fermanagh and Monaghan will have discovered if their season is to be extended further.

There is considerable cause for optimism, though, that Armagh will have plenty of company as the pursuit of All Ireland glory gathers pace.

Their neighbours on each side, Down and Tyrone, go into today's games at Croke Park against Wexford and Mayo respectively buoyed by their own particular individual bonuses - Down certain to derive extra impetus from the fact that skipper Dan Gordon will after all be in their line-up now that the red card he suffered last week-end has been rescinded while Tyrone will take heart from the current stunning scoring exploits of the on-fireTommy McGuigan.

Should Down or Tyrone - and preferably both - offer further evidence that Ulster is still a significant footballing power-base , then tomorrow Fermanagh, devastated last Sunday when they found Armagh's physical power and clinical finishing suffocating, hope to inflict heartbreak on one of the orchard conty's most famous sporting sons.

Kieran McGeeney, in his role as Kildare boss, will pit his wits against Malachy O'Rourke anxious to see his side land a hat-trick of qualifier wins yet aware that the gutsy Ernesiders boast lively powers of recovery.

McGeeney’s men have looked no more than average in chiselling out qualifier wins over Cavan and Limerick to date and will need to summon rather more skill and defensive nous if they are to make it a second defeat for Fermanagh within a week.

Erne boss O’Rourke has overseen a season of progress to date - getting to the Ulster final was achieved on the back of unexpected wins over Derry and Monaghan - and a sustained effort at Headquarters tomorrow could launch his team’s All Ireland rehabilitation drive.

And bubbly Monaghan, can add a whole new dimension of sporting romance to the week-end if they could manage to jettison Kerry's ambitions of making it three all Ireland titles on the trot.

When the Farney men were paired with the Kingdom at last Sunday's night draw, their personable manager Seamus McEnaney dubbed it "the match from hell."

But tomorrow Monaghan have vowed to scale a new peak in terms of stamina, work-rate and passion in their bid to transform the All Ireland landscape.

They came agonisingly close to causing a semi-final sensation last year and now, wiser and even more hungry, they will attempt to cut Kerry down to size.

That won’t be easy, of course.

A glance at the Kerry team alone will suffice to confirm that the Ulster side will need to be at their very best to come up smiling this time.

If they do, then the All Ireland quarter-finals will have a distinctly Ulster flavour and that will surely heighten speculation that the Sam Maguire Cup will come to the province.

It’s certainly all to play for. One thing is certain - there will be a huge exodus from the province to Croke Park and the hierarchy there will certainly have no complaints that the northern influence is so profound right now.

There may be a credit crunch, financial constraints and tightening of belts but when it comes to getting behind your county, Ulster folk know how to give a lead.

Belfast Telegraph


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