Not for the first time Ulster provides the most appetising dishes on the All-Ireland football qualifiers menu. And this time round it’s all because of a decision taken at a Special Congress in 2006.
It was decided then that the stipulation whereby teams which met in the first round of their respective provincial championships could not clash again in the qualifiers should be rescinded.
Thus on Saturday we will have Derry renewing acquaintance with Down at Celtic Park and then on Saturday week Fermanagh and Cavan will cross swords again, this time at Kingspan Breffni Park.
It was in a thrilling Ulster Championship tie last month that Down staged a dramatic second-half performance to upstage the Oak Leaf county and reach the semi-final where they were beaten by current champions Donegal.
Derry manager Brian McIver admitted afterwards that his team had been “wiped out” at midfield in that game and now that P J McCloskey is back again, no doubt remedial action will be taken for this mouth-watering qualifier showdown.
And Fermanagh manager Peter Canavan will surely relish the opportunity to avenge his team’s setback against Cavan at Brewster Park, Enniskillen when an inordinate amount of turnovers impacted on the Ernesiders’ ability to gain any measure of control in the game. Fermanagh lived dangerously before squeezing past Westmeath last Saturday but Canavan will have his side at concert pitch for Saturday week’s encounter.
For Armagh boss Paul Grimley, reinvigorated following his team’s clinical destruction of Wicklow, there is now the challenge of confronting a Leitrim side on Saturday week in Carrick-on-Shannon that succumbed to surprise packet London in the Connacht semi-final on Sunday. Grimley, though, is hardly likely to derive too much succour from Leitrim’s misfortune in that game.
Four players had been removed from the panel for disciplinary reasons in advance of the tie, another three — Gerry Hickey, Paul Maguire and Alan Wynne — were not in the starting line-up because of injury while during the game Emlyn Mulligan, Darren Sweeney and Ciaran Egan all picked up knocks.
In contrast, Armagh have no real worries from their starting line-up against Wicklow although Jamie Clarke jarred his knee when he fell heavily but will be fit to face the beaten Connacht semi-finalists. Tyrone boss Mickey Harte could find himself facing some interesting selection options for the game against Roscommon on Saturday in Dy Hyde Park.
Players such as Darren McCurry and Connor McAliskey, who scored 10 points between them, stepped up smartly to the mark in that game while Joe McMahon was introduced as a substitute for Colm Cavanagh at midfield.
Harte will still be without Niall Morgan, Justin McMahon and Dermot Carlin but his strength in depth is such that a place in the quarter-finals of the All Ireland championship still looks to be well within his team’s compass.