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Ulster title race ready for lift-off

Murphy: scene is set for feast of terrific football

By John Campbell

Ulster Council secretary Danny Murphy last night predicted that the provincial football championship will build up to “a tremendous climax” now that four teams all with realistic expectations of winning the title have reached the semi-finals.

While the competition has received some adverse press to date, Murphy holds strongly to the belief that the next three games, starting with tomorrow’s clash between Derry and Armagh in Clones, will bring the championship to a different level.

“There is the potential there for two cracking semi-finals and the teams involved will fancy their chances of lifting the title.

“There might have been question marks over the competitiveness of one or two games so far but I don’t think that this will apply from here on in,” asserts Murphy.

Derry will bring a gnawing hunger to the table while Armagh will seek to bolster their impressive track record — seven titles in the last 12 years — when they lock horns tomorrow.

And on Sunday next Donegal, with wins over Antrim and Cavan to their credit already, will provide a formidable barrier to Tyrone’s hopes of landing their third successive provincial crown.

“I don’t really think you could ask for two better games,” reflects Murphy.

“All four teams will bring their different strengths into play and I think that we are in for a feast of quality football.”

In common with the other provincial championships, the Ulster series has yet to really catch fire.

A combination of one-sided matches, poor weather conditions and hugely appealing counter-attractions on television contributed to some mundane fare and modest crowds to date.

But this could all change starting from tomorrow. Derry fans may be less than enamoured with the choice of Clones as the venue for their showdown with the orchard county but manager John Brennan, despite what he deplores as “a political decision” in relation to the location of the tie, insists that his side will be up for battle.

“We will be going to Clones looking for a win and to bring further pride back to Derry,” insists Brennan, whose team have already overcome Fermanagh.

Murphy has lent strong support to Ulster Council chairman Aoghan Farrell in his strident defence of the choice of St Tiernach’s Park for the two semi-finals and final.

“There will be unrestricted access tomorrow which means that everyone who wants to see the game will get in,” states Murphy.

“That might not have been the case for a variety of reasons had it been staged elsewhere. I believe that the fans will turn up in big numbers and I am sure that they will not be disappointed at what they will witness.

“Under 16s will get in free and we have other concessions on offer so I would hope that people will feel they will be getting value for money.”

Derry captain Barry McGoldrick, who missed the win over Fermanagh because of injury, cannot wait to get out onto the newly-laid Clones pitch.

“It was frustrating to have to sit out the Fermanagh game but I’m delighted to be leading the side for the first time in a championship match tomorrow. This Derry team is very focused and there is a great desire on the part of the players to end our title famine,” says the Coleraine clubman.

Murphy admits, however, that Ulster Council officials are keeping their eyes on the skies in the hope that the elements will be kind to them.

“I don’t believe we have had a decent Sunday yet weather-wise since the championship started and that has been disappointing. Obviously we are keeping both our fingers and our toes crossed for tomorrow,” he smiles.

And in a more serious vein he adds: “The weather can largely determine whether any outdoor event is successful or not. I heard on the radio the other day that the projected climate for the next 50 years or so is not too good but for the moment we will just focus on tomorrow.”

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