Uslter draw: Tyrone must pass Down test
Tyrone must pass the Down test
Not for the first time in recent years the Ulster senior football championship draw has thrown up the most appetising menu at provincial level.
It certainly gets no better than Tyrone v Down in the preliminary round with reigning champions Monaghan awaiting the winners in the quarter-finals.
And as if this were not sufficient to titillate the taste buds, what should prove a monster clash between neighbours Derry and Donegal also emerged when the draw was made last night.
Indeed, the fare in the other provinces, some of it the product of convoluted fixtures mechanisms, was rendered mundane when the Ulster flagship competition draw took centre stage.
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and his Down counterpart James McCartan will hardly relish a preliminary round joust but with both already in the process of amending their sides it can be assumed that this will be a massive tie.
The Red Hands expect to have Sean Cavanagh, Conor Gormley, Joe McMahon and Martin Penrose still on board while Down must await confirmation that players such as Benny Coulter, Danny Hughes and Aidan Carr will still be in their mix.
Twenty years have passed since Down occupied the Ulster throne while Tyrone in contrast have stockpiled three All-Ireland titles since 2003 but statistics will count for little when the teams launch the 2014 provincial series.
And Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke needs no reminding that meeting the winners in the quarter-finals will prove a difficult task for his side.
They may be the current champions but the Farney county will discover that retaining the title can be hazardous in the extreme.
Donegal must confront a hungry Derry side in their bid to atone for a dismal 2013 which saw them relegated in the league, beaten by Monaghan in the Ulster decider and annihilated by Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Derry boss Brian McIver has slowly and carefully been building up a new-look side but it remains to be seen if they can fulfil their rich promise while Cavan will attempt to build on the headway they have made this year when they lock horns with Armagh.
And Fermanagh and Antrim, two managerless counties, will also meet in a quarter-final clash.
Both county boards are anxious to see their managerial vacancies filled and last night's draw proved that these two teams face daunting routes in their attempt to make progress.
In Munster, players from the Waterford, Tipperary, Limerick and Clare football squads have said they will not take part in future Munster championships unless the recent decision to seed both Kerry and Cork is reversed.
And the end of an era in Kerry came yesterday when Tomas Ó Sé (left), a first-choice defender for the past 15 years, announced his retirement from inter county football.
The 35-year-old made his Championship debut for the Kingdom in 1998 and went on to win five All-Irelands and five All-Star honours.
He also won nine Munster titles for Kerry and three National Leagues.
Leinster and All-Ireland champions Dublin will begin their quest to win more silverware in 2014 with a game against either Wicklow or Laois in the provincial quarter-final.
Beyond that, a date with either Longford/Offaly/Wexford awaits in the last four.
Beaten All-Ireland finalists Mayo are eyeing up a fourth consecutive Connacht and face a trip to New York at the start of May.
Leitrim or Roscommon await in the semi-final.
In the Leinster hurling championship, Antrim are included in a qualifier group that also includes Carlow, Laois, London and Westmeath.