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Pictured Oisin McConville

Date: Wednesday 5th May 2010

Location: Studio

Photographer: Liam McBurney

Copyright: Liam McBurney ©

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Liam McBurney

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Cavan will give it a good go, but I don't think anybody could stand in the way of a Donegal hat-trick

Oisin McConville


Way we were: Donegal on way to victory over Cavan with Hugh McFadden in control in last year's Ulster Final in Clones

Way we were: Donegal on way to victory over Cavan with Hugh McFadden in control in last year's Ulster Final in Clones

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Way we were: Donegal on way to victory over Cavan with Hugh McFadden in control in last year's Ulster Final in Clones

Down through the decades the Ulster Senior Football Championship Final has invariably been played out in a carnival atmosphere, with thousands of people in the stand and on the terraces of St Tiernach's Park, Clones in full voice.

Today it will all be rather different. The biggest match in the province's annual fixtures calendar will be staged at a muted Athletic Grounds, Armagh, with Donegal and Cavan locking horns in a repeat of last year's decider when Donegal made it back-to-back titles.

Unsurprisingly, Declan Bonner's outfit have a hat-trick of titles in their sights fortified by the knowledge that their consistency on the Ulster stage is one of the reasons why they have continually been bracketed among the elite sides.

They will come up against a Cavan side who were relegated in the league, have not won an Ulster title since 1997 and were forced to launch stunning comebacks against Monaghan and Down in order to have their passport formally stamped for today's showpiece.

For the respective managers, this will be a test of nerve as much as anything else. The eerie atmosphere in which games are currently played imposes its own pressures on players and, as a result, managers are forced to work overtime in harnessing morale and adopting a positive stance.

For Cavan's Mickey Graham, this will be the ultimate challenge. For the past five weeks his side have been 'on the road' enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and now face their biggest test since last year's Ulster Final.

The word 'test' can slip glibly off the tongue, so let me apply some context here. Cork will contest the Munster football final today having played one game - albeit a truly memorable one.

Mark Keane's last-second goal that left Kerry on the seat of their pants fuelled Cork's belief to such an extent that they are red hot favourites to beat Tipperary today in the Munster final before they face Mayo in the All-Ireland Semi-Final.

And Mayo? They have travelled a slightly more difficult route in beating Leitrim and Roscommon in Connacht before being fully extended by Galway in last Sunday's Final, which they eventually won by the narrowest of margins (0-14 to 0-13).

And that is a Galway side that landed a place in the Final after their Semi-Final against Sligo was ruled out because of a Covid-19 threat within the Sligo camp.

Given Cavan's torturous route into today's decider, it's little wonder that speculation surrounds their involvement. After three intensely tough Championship matches - more than enough to have won the title in other provinces - they must rouse themselves for another titanic battle.

Yet there is no sense of foreboding within the Breffni ranks. Raymond Galligan, Padraig Faulkner, Gearoid McKiernan, Martin Reilly, Ciaran Brady, Conor Madden and Killian Clarke can pool their experience to good effect in offering a stumbling block to their north-west opponents.

It goes without saying that Donegal's Michael Murphy, Ryan McHugh, Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Hugh McFadden, Patrick McBrearty, Neil McGee and Paul Brennan will lean on their reserves of guile, composure and invention to trip Cavan up.

Add in the fact that they have the not inconsiderable support of younger guns such as Ciaran Thompson, Peader Mogan, Michael Langan and Niall O'Donnell and you would just have to admire the riches that manager Bonner has at his disposal.

He is picking his steps carefully in the knowledge that Cavan's penchant for staying the distance has not only stood to them but projected them into the national spotlight - quite a feat for a side that was expected to fall at the first hurdle against neighbours and deadly rivals Monaghan.

I suspect that we will have a game worthy of bringing down the curtain on the provincial Championship in the grand manner, and I also have the feeling that Donegal will be lifting the Anglo Celt Cup yet again prior to confronting Dublin on Saturday December 5.

Am I being presumptuous here? No, just realistic.

McGinley-O'Neill is dream ticket for Saffrons

When Lenny Harbinson vacated the Antrim managerial role last week he made it quite clear that gaining promotion to Division Three would have to remain a priority for the side if they are to make real progress.

And that's a message which will resonate with triple Tyrone All-Ireland winner Enda McGinley who was appointed last night to succeed Harbinson.

There had been indications that McGinley, who gave magnificent service to Tyrone, might form part of a new management ticket along with his former Red Hands ally Stephen O'Neill.

This is precisely what has happened, and with Stephen Quinn and ex-Antrim ace Sean Kelly also coming on board as part of the management team, the Saffrons will certainly not lack drive and leadership.

McGinley was an outstanding performer at midfield for Tyrone, while O'Neill is regarded as one of the greatest forwards to have emerged from Ulster, his scoring exploits having ensured he remained constantly in the spotlight during his tenure in the Red Hand jersey.

I have felt for some time that Antrim possess talent and I think this has been reflected on occasions during their recent League campaign, and indeed in their Ulster Championship match against Cavan.

Having been in post for three years, Lenny Harbinson obviously felt he had contributed as much as he could to Antrim's cause, and his departure has now paved the way for Enda McGinley to leave his imprint on Antrim.

He will undoubtedly have absorbed lessons from Mickey Harte during his time with Tyrone and will surely put these into practice in his new role, while also embellishing his input with his own particular style of man-management.

There is no doubt that there are added pressures and demands on managers right now, and I feel quite sure that there will be a considerable feeling of relief within Antrim now that a new appointment has been made. This will facilitate a prompt start to preparations for next year in which the Allianz League may be played on a regional basis and could yet offer Antrim the prospect of some form of positive advancement.

Mind you, I believe that a new psyche needs to be generated so that a greater resourcefulness and pride can be harnessed as a prelude to any possible success.

I believe that the McGinley-O'Neill partnership has the desire, determination and drive to elicit more consistent performances from the Saffrons - this will be essential if the side is to gain fresh respect.

There are undoubtedly solid foundations there on which to build, and I wish the new management team the very best of luck going forward.

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