No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

DECLAN BONNER: No longer the poor relation

For years and years, the Ulster Championship was the poor relation of Gaelic Football.

It was said that counties from the province couldn’t compete with Kerry or Dublin, or the big hitters down south.

And when they did put it up to them, they used tactics not fitting of the ethos of the game to do so.

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However, as we have witnessed turkey shoot after turkey shoot in the this year’s Championship, Ulster is the one province that still provides big games that really capture the public’s imagination.

It might not have been the greatest Ulster Championship ever, but we still had three excellent semi-finals, and we are now all eagerly awaiting what should be a fantastic final between Donegal and Tyrone.

It’s about time that we started shouting from the rooftops that this is the only provincial championship worth watching, because you can guarantee the boys down south would be doing so if they were providing entertainment week after week.

Granted, now that Mayo’s monopoly has come to an end, the Connacht Championship is quite interesting, but it still comes a distant second when compared with the battle to secure the Anglo Celt Cup.

You look at how Kerry strolled to a Munster title this season and you would never get if that easy up here. When you land the Ulster crown, you’ve definitely earned it.

There will be euphoria for whichever team comes out on top on Sunday week. There will be tears, pitch invasions, and a new belief that Ulster success could be the springboard for possibly more silverware later in the summer.

I’ll go into the game in more detail on the decider next Friday, but you can be sure that both sets of management teams will be busy ironing out game plans and strategies this week.

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They will be watching video after video, looking to find something that will give them an edge, while they will also be deciding on their match-ups.

Tyrone have a good record in Ulster Finals, but Donegal have held the upper hand on them since 2011, and I would imagine Rory Gallagher’s players were pleased when the Red Hands got the better of Cavan on Sunday.

They know Tyrone will be gunning for them and they would love to inflict another defeat on Mickey Harte’s side.

I think the two best teams in Ulster will meet in the showpiece event and you would have to say, they are two of the form teams in the country at the moment. It’s sure to be a mouth-watering contest.

Tyrone and Donegal players tussle during their Ulster Football Senior Championship Preliminary Round game last year. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Tyrone and Donegal players tussle during their Ulster Football Senior Championship Preliminary Round game last year. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

There’s going to be huge interest in it, and there will be a big clamour for tickets.

One thing going in our favour is that we are in the Minor Final, and Tyrone are not.

It’s an early throw-in for the minors, but we need the people of the county to get in and support Shaun Paul Barrett’s team to try and ensure we get the day off to a good start.

It would be a huge lift for the seniors to run out on to the pitch as the minors are doing a lap of honour, and that would create an excellent atmosphere for them to throw everything they have at Tyrone.

Connacht Final

There was a lot of noise coming out of Roscommon early in the year, and I was very impressed with them when they defeated Donegal in the league in O’Donnell Park.

They have some excellent forwards with a lot of pace, and they are a solid unit all round.

They went off the boil towards the end of the league, and were then very fortunate to get past New York in the first round of the Connacht championship.

The Rossies haven’t a great record against Mayo, and they will be delighted that they are not facing them this week.

They will see an opportunity against Galway, and in Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell’s first year in charge, it would be a very good start to their tenure if they can come out on top this term.

Roscommon have serious backers and they have been pumping resources into the senior team this season.

They will be looking for silverware and ultimately landing an All-Ireland title. That’s well off the radar at the moment, but success in Connacht would constitute a good year for them.

Galway are traditionally hard to beat in finals and they will have taken a huge amount of confidence after getting past Mayo in the semi-final stage.

It was an unexpected victory for the Tribesmen but they finished the game brilliantly, and they have good forwards in Shane Walsh and Damo Comer.

Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn are both good midfielders and well able to take a score.

Galway have always had quality footballers, and they are at their best when they are moving the play quickly.

They struggled over the last decade as blanket defences became the norm, but maybe, just maybe, they are ready to come again.

It’s a tough match to call but I expect Galway to win it.


Qualifiers

Mayo have Fermanagh this week and that’s a really difficult one for Pete McGrath’s team.

Mayo are in the back door for the first time since 2010, and they haven’t found the qualifiers a happy hunting ground in the past.

Stephen Rochford has taken over as Mayo manager this season and his team have struggled to deal with the pressure.

 Mayo manager Stephen Rochford  Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

They have had a few weeks to lick their wounds and I think you will see that Mayo are going to be a very dangerous animal in the back door.

If the game was in Brewster Park, then you could possibly make a case for Fermanagh, but in Castlebar, there will surely only be one winner.

The seven-day turnaround will present problems for Monaghan, but they should still have too much for Longford.

Malachy O’Rourke’s team will be itching to get back onto the field, and no team will want to run into them. They have another big performance in them and they could take a scalp before the year is out.

The other match that really catches my eye is Derry’s clash with Meath in Owenbeg.

Both counties were strong at the start of the noughties, but they have been left behind since that.

Derry haven’t built up any momentum over the last number of years, and they have changed managers a few times with no real improvement.

Damien Barton has come in and there was a lot of talk at the start of the year that he was going to bring steel to the Derry side again.

That hasn’t materialised and their style of football hasn’t been pleasing on the eye.

Meath put up a fight against Dublin for a bit in the Leinster semi-final, but they never looked like getting over the line, and it’s hard to know where they are at.

It should be a good intriguing match, and it isn’t too far away from home, so if you fancy a bit of intercounty action on Saturday afternoon, you should head for Owenbeg.

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