Thursday 27 July 2017

Ulster SFC Preview

Antrim

All-Ireland titles: None

Ulster titles: 10 (1951)

Manager: Liam Bradley (2nd year)

Captain: Colin Brady

Last year: Antrim 1-10, Donegal 0-12 (Ulster quarter-final), Antrim 0-13, Cavan 1-7, Tyrone 1-18, Antrim 0-15 (Ulster final), Kerry 2-12, Antrim 1-10 (Qualifier Rd 4)

2010 NFL: 1st in Div 3 (P7, W5, L2) Beaten finalists

Last big Championship achievement: Reached the 2009 Ulster final.

Key man: Michael McCann.

Who could make a name for himself: Sean Kelly sat out last season by choice. Expect him to make up for lost ground.

Fantasy signing: They need a strong anchorman at midfield to guide them. Darragh O Se could hardly be coaxed out of retirement for them, but from across the border with Derry, Fergal Doherty could do a job for them.

Prospects: Their wings were clipped by Sligo in the Division 3 final somewhat, but the Ulster championship is a rarefied atmosphere where different parameters exist. Everything revolves around Tyrone's visit to Casement Park. The gap was significant in last year's Ulster final, not enough has changed since then. A decent qualifier run is within their remit, however.

Odds: 22/1 Ulster, 200/1 All-Ireland.

First game: Ulster quarter final v Tyrone, Sunday May 23, Casement Park.

Armagh

All-Ireland titles: 1 (2002)

Ulster titles: 14 (2008)

Manager: Paddy O'Rourke (1st season)

Captain: Steven McDonnell

Last year: Tyrone 2-10, Armagh 1-10 (Ulster quarter-final), Monaghan 0-13, Armagh 0-12 (Qualifier Rd 1

2010 NFL: 2nd in Div 2 (P7, W5, L2) Won final

Last big Championship achievement: 2008 Ulster champions.

Key man: Steven McDonnell is a rejuvenated figure this season.

Who could make a name for himself: Jamie Clarke recently joined the panel on the back of impressive Crossmaglen form and showed well in the league final.

Fantasy signing: Stephen Cluxton could give them the security they need as goalkeeper.

Prospects: Buoyed up by their league success, the scale of the mountain they now face will have dawned on them. Derry, Monaghan, Cavan or Fermanagh and probably Tyrone stand in the way of an Ulster title. It's a tall order for a team pitched in Ulster's graveyard -- the preliminary round. But they are improving.

Odds: 9/1 Ulster, 33/1 All-Ireland.

First game: Ulster preliminary round v Derry, Sunday, May 16, Celtic Park.

Cavan

All-Ireland titles: 5 (1952)

Ulster titles: 39 (1997)

Manager: Tom Carr (2nd season)

Captain: Martin Cahill

Last year: Cavan 0-13, Fermanagh 1-9 (Ulster quarter final), Antrim 0-13, Cavan 1-7, Wicklow 1-12, Cavan 0-8 (Qualifier Rd 2)

2010 NFL: 4th in Div 3 (P7, W4, L3)

Last big Championship achievement: Ulster champions 1997.

Key man: Seanie Johnston has to be fit and motoring for Cavan to have any ambitions.

Who could make a name for himself: The towering David Givney looks the part.

Fantasy signing: Not enough space on the cheque for Cavan's shopping list! But Tomas O Se could give them badly needed impetus from half-back. Is there a gaelscoil in Cavan?

Prospects: Beating Fermanagh last year didn't give them much traction and is unlikely to in 2010 either. June 12 is a battle to avoid being labelled the 'worst in Ulster.' The qualifiers won't be much of a haven either, though they will have learned from last year and a better spring campaign.

Odds: 18/1 Ulster, 500/1 All-Ireland.

First game: Ulster quarter final v Fermanagh, Saturday, June 12, Kingspan Breffni Park.

Derry

All-Ireland titles: 1 (1993)

Ulster titles: 7 (1998)

Manager: Damian Cassidy (2nd year)

Captain: Gerard O'Kane

Last year: Derry 1-10, Monaghan 0-10 (Ulster quarter-final), Tyrone 0-15, Derry 0-7, Derry 3-16, Monaghan 0-20 (Qualifier Rd 2), Donegal 2-13, Derry 0-18

2010 NFL: 7th (relegated) in Div 1 (P7, W5, L2)

Last big Championship achievement: Reached 2004 All-Ireland semi-final.

Key man: Gerard O'Kane ties all the strands at the heart of the defence.

Who could make a name for himself: Declan Mullan fits the Galvin/Dooher prototype wing-forward and we should hear more about him this year.

Fantasy Signing: Full-backs of stature are few and far between and Kevin McCloy no longer features in the top bracket. Michael Shields (pictured right) may not even be first choice in Cork any more, but he would be in Derry.

Prospects: Where did it all go wrong after an opening round defeat of Tyrone in this year's league? On a broader basis, Derry have flattered to deceive and just can't be trusted for a sustained campaign. Still home advantage in the opening round could propel them a decent distance in Ulster. Finalists? Every chance.

Odds: 8/1 Ulster, 33/1 All-Ireland.

First game: Ulster preliminary round v Armagh, Sunday, May 16, Celtic Park.

Donegal

All-Ireland titles: 1 (1992)

Ulster titles: 5 (1992)

Manager: John Joe Doherty (2nd year)

Captain: Kevin Cassidy

Last year: Antrim 1-10, Donegal 0-12 (Ulster quarter-final), Donegal 2-13, Carlow 1-6 (Qualifier Rd 1), Donegal 0-13, Clare 1-7, Donegal 2-13, Derry 0-18, Donegal 0-14, Galway 0-13 (Qualifier Rd 4)

2010 NFL: 3rd in Div 2 (P7, W4, L3)

Last big Championship achievement: Reached All-Ireland semi-final 2003.

Key man: Donegal's world now revolves around the prolific Michael Murphy.

Who could make a name for himself: Powerful half- forward Leo McLoone can make step up from the U-21 team.

Fantasy signing: Paul Galvin would provide a bit of badly needed 'spike' to their half-forward line.

Prospects: They have to like the pathway ahead of them. After losing at home to Antrim last year, they'll be desperate to respond. Capable of one or two big wins in the province, but hardly three.

Odds: 9/1 Ulster, 66/1 All-Ireland.

First game: Ulster quarter-final v Down, Sunday May 30, Ballybofey.

Down

All-Ireland titles: 5 (1994)

Ulster titles: 12 (1994)

Manager: James McCartan (1st year)

Captain: Ambrose Rogers

Last year: Fermanagh 0-13, Down 0-10 (Ulster 1st round), Down 1-16, London 1-7 (Qualifier Rd 1), Down 2-9, Laois 0-7, Wicklow 1-15, Down 0-17 (Qualifier Rd 3) Cork 1-27, Donegal 2-10 (All-Ireland quarter final).

2010 NFL: 1st in Div 2 (P7, W6, D1) Beaten finalists

Last big Championship achievement: Won 1994 All-Ireland title.

Key man: Martin Clarke (pictured left) hasn't taken long to settle down and assume the role of conductor.

Who could make a name for himself: James Colgan has been restored to the squad and has provided direction from centre-back.

Fantasy signing: The destructive influence of Donegal corner-back Karl Lacey on blue-chip forwards is something Down badly require -- as Stevie McDonnell recently exposed.

Prospects: A journey to Ballybofey is treacherous. Win that and they'll fancy a place in the Ulster final at probably Tyrone's expense. Manager James McCartan has rebuilt with telling effect, but the white heat of championship may punch a few holes in their armoury this season.

Odds: 8/1 Ulster, 40/1 All-Ireland.

First game: Ulster quarter final v Donegal, Sunday, May 30, Ballybofey.

Fermanagh

All-Ireland titles: none

Ulster titles: none

Manager: Malachy O'Rourke (3rd year)

Captain: James Sherry

Last year: Fermanagh 0-13, Down 0-10, Cavan 0-13, Fermanagh 1-9, Wicklow 0-17, Fermanagh 1-11 (Qualifier Rd 1)

2010 NFL: 8th (relegated) in Div 3 (P7, W1, L6)

Last big Championship achievement: Reached 2008 Ulster final.

Key man: Injuries aside, Martin McGrath is the team's anchor.

Who could make a name for himself: Chris O'Brien's involvement in the league has been largely peripheral, but he has elusiveness as a corner-forward to court greater exposure this season.

Fantasy signing: Malachy O'Rourke could sign a few but a decent free-taker is still paramount. Monaghan's Paul Finlay would do a lot for them and might not break the bank!

Prospects: Reversing last year's championship defeat against Cavan is about as far as they can go and that really is their game of the summer. They've lost too much elevation to be any more ambitious for them. Key players that served them so well between 2003 and 2008 are showing too many signs of wear and tear.

Odds: 25/1 Ulster, 250/1 All-Ireland.

First game: Ulster quarter final v Cavan, Saturday June 12, Kingspan Breffni Park.

Monaghan

All-Ireland titles: none

Ulster titles: 13 (1988)

Manager: Seamus McEnaney (6th season)

Captain: Vincent Corey

Last year: Derry 1-10, Monaghan 0-10 (Ulster quarter final), Monaghan 0-13, Armagh 0-12 (qualifier Rd 1), Derry 3-16, Monaghan 0-20

2010 NFL: 6th in Div 1 (P7, W2, L5)

Last big championship achievement: Won 1988 Ulster title.

Key man: Conor McManus' development takes pressure off Tommy Freeman.

Who could make a name for himself: Darren Hughes is fast emerging as their most versatile asset.

Fantasy signing: We said Kieran Donaghy last year and we'll repeat it again. How Tommy Freeman and now Conor McManus would benefit playing off him.

Prospects: It's now or never for this Monaghan team. Some already have them on the downhill descent after too many years spent punching above their weight. But they stoked up enough spirit to survive Div 1. Conor McManus' emergence over the last 12 months is welcome and they are always capable of one big result. But in Ulster over the last two seasons they have fallen at the first hurdle. This time the appetite for qualifiers won't exist.

Odds: 6/1 Ulster, 50/1 All-Ireland.

First game: Ulster quarter final v Derry or Armagh, Celtic Park or Clones, June 6.

Tyrone

All-Ireland titles: 3 (2008)

Ulster titles: 12 (2009)

Manager: Mickey Harte (8th season)

Captain: Brian Dooher

Last year: Tyrone 2-10, Armagh 1-10 (Ulster quarter-final), Tyrone 0-15, Derry 0-7, Tyrone 1-18, Antrim 0-15, Tyrone 0-16, Kildare 1-11 (All-Ireland quarter final), Cork 1-13, Tyrone 0-11 (All-Ireland semi-final)

2010 NFL: 8th (relegated) in Div 1 (P7, W2, L5)

Last big Championship achievement: Won 2009 Ulster title.

Key man: Without Sean Cavanagh from the start against Cork last August told its own story.

Who could make a name for himself: Kyle Coney is already a 'name', now he seeks to put it in lights.

Fantasy signing? A big midfielder is a luxury that Tyrone never seem to have. Limerick's John Galvin could thrive there.

Prospects: Everything depends on injuries. We've made the mistake of writing them off in the past, but they have looked at a lot of players in the league, a gamble which didn't really pay off. Getting Stephen O'Neill back on the field is a priority, anything from Dooher is a bonus. Signs of weary legs among the elder statesman during spring.

Odds: 5/4 Ulster, 9/2 All-Ireland.

First game: Ulster quarter final v Antrim, Sunday May 23, Casement Park.

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