BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT THE TITANIC SIGNATURE BUILDING, BELFAST
The sparkling mahogany staircase providing the backdrop to one of the Ulster championship’s grandest launches, is a pointer to those aboard the doomed liner that departed these waters 100 years ago.
“It is no harm to remember that the people on the original staircase had hopes, dreams and visions too,” said O Fearghail.
“That is what we have now, just as the people had in 1912.
“2012 is about dreams, dreams for our little parish. Only the most cynical of people will say ‘we don’t have hope’.”
Tuesday evening’s launch was all about those little dreams, the aspirations of the nine counties to emulate what Jim McGuinness and Michael Murphy did last summer and get their mits on Ulster football’s most coveted prize – the Anglo-Celt.
McGuinness is a much sought-after man, a string of media of all sorts of mediums await the arrival of the charismatic Glenties man, whose co-ordinates have gone off slightly as he makes his way to the venue.
When he arrives, a flood of journalists waves towards him. The manager of the Ulster champions, Jim McGuinness clearly has become box office stuff.
By the end of the function, McGuinness will have conducted up on a dozen television interviews; the print media and the various radio stations all want a piece of his mind too.
The future of the provincial championships has been the source of much debate in recent years – but in Jim McGuinness the Ulster championship has a huge fan.
Just what winning the competition meant to him could be seen in his exuberant reaction at the final whistle in last year’s final.
Maurice Deegan shrilled for the last time and McGuinness was lost in a moment of euphoria, photographers scrambled as the Donegal boss leapt into the Clones sky and let out an emotionally charged wail of delight.
Finally, he’d done it.
“A lot of years went into that moment; a lot of effort and a lot of time too,” he said at Tuesday’s launch.
“That was by everybody – and I was just so delighted for them. It righted a few wrongs in my own career. It was a great moment and something I’ll always cherish.
“We all know how special the competition is and we all know how difficult a competition it is.”
The Ulster Council are putting a big push on promoting their championship this year – and with a lot of competition this summer, that aspect is something the GAA has placed a huge emphasis on.
Last week, a meeting with all 32 county PROs was held in a bid to shake up the promotional side of it as the Championship draws ever closer.
The step-up was evident from Tuesday’s launch, which was attended by the GAA’s Director General Paraic Duffy.
“The provincial championships are hugely important and have a very important place in the GAA calendar. There are none as competitive as the Ulster senior football championship,” he told the attendance.
“This is the time of year when all nine counties can at least aspire to an Ulster final and can dream of winning it.
“We hope, we dream and we look forward to our county doing as well as possible.”
This was a recurring theme for the evening – in keeping with the provincial authority’s catch-line for the Championship, ‘Nothing beats being there’.
All nine county managers were in attendance as well as players from each county, including injured Donegal captain Michael Murphy, and also the ladies captains and managers, Donegal’s Michael Naughton and Aoife McDonnell taking their place, as did county secretary Aodh Mairtin O Fearraigh and county administration manager Noreen Doherty.
In just two weeks time Donegal and Cavan get the 2012 race for glory underway.
Like those aboard the Titanic in 1912, theirs is an ambitious dream at the outset of what could be a memorable journey. There’ll be the icebergs and obstacles to be avoided and Ulster will again be about the survival of the fittest, a differentiation between those who’ll sink and those who’ll swim.
Last year, Donegal came through the preliminary round to top the pile.
The long route again must be taken if this county’s first-ever back-to-back will be won.
Dreams, hopes and visions are all still a reality. Aogan O’Fearaill summed it up best when he observed: “If that dream becomes a reality and your county wins, there is only one place to be when that happens – at the match.”