Football Championship 2018: Ulster county-by-county guide
Keith Duggan’s guide to the challenge from the north
Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson
Manager: Lenny Harbinson (1st year)
Odds: All-Ireland 2,000/1; Ulster 100/1
Allianz league: 3rd Division Four, beating Leitrim, Waterford, London and Limerick, drawing with Wicklow and losing to Carlow. Game against Laois postponed and never played.
Next up: v Down, Páirc Esler, Newry, May 26th, 7pm
Antrim made a smart appointment in Harbinson, and the team came very close to gaining promotion in a cutthroat promotion race: their defeat at home against Carlow was the big disappointment. Harbinson has talked of the revitalisation of Antrim as a five to 10- year project. Gaining traction in the Ulster Championship is not easy, particular when your opening assignment involves a trip to Newry.
Manager: Kieran McGeeney (5th year)
Odds: All-Ireland 150/1; Ulster 11/1.
League: Winners Division Three, beating Sligo, Westmeath, Longford and Offaly, drawing with Fermanagh and losing a dead-rubber against relegated Wexford.
Next up: v Fermanagh, Brewster Park, Enniskillen, May 19th, 7pm
Armagh are one of the championship outliers. They have been remarkably consistent, losing narrowly against Down in last year’s championship and then going on to the quarter-finals, where Tyrone, Kieran McGeeney’s old nemesis, tore them apart. They have won every league game that matters this year. Last year they beat Fermanagh with nine points to spare: the Ernesiders look formidable under Rory Gallagher this year. If Armagh can get out of Brewster Park with a win, watch out for the orange.
Manager: Mattie McGleenan (2nd year)
Odds: All-Ireland 150/1; Ulster 14/1
League: Runners-up Division Two, beating Louth, Meath, Cork, Down and Tipperary, drawing with Clare and losing to Roscommon in both the regular season and final.
Next up: v Donegal, MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey, May 12th, 7pm
An emphatic response to last summer’s disappointments brought Cavan back to Division One with a necklace of solidly impressive wins over the tough-to-beat Division Two stalwarts. But will that be enough? Cavan’s young guns have been shaped by the hard realities of the senior championship and the need to take a big Ulster Championship scalp is becoming pressing. On paper they are facing a relatively callow Donegal team who have just been relegated in the league. But taking a win in Ballybofey is a huge challenge.
Manager: Damien McErlain (1st year)
Odds: All-Ireland 250/1; Ulster 25/1
League: 7th Division Three. Relegated, losing to Westmeath, Longford, Sligo, Armagh and Fermanagh. Beat Offaly and Wexford.
Next up: v Donegal/Cavan, TBC, May 27th, 4pm
Derry have a good two months to deal with their crisis slide into Division Four, an alarming drop for the county. Damien McErlain didn’t attempt to paper over the problems: a porous defence, key players unavailable, apathy towards the county cause. It is going to take a concerted effort to turn this around but Derry’s league standing and recent championships are not reflective of the true standard of football in the county.
Manager: Declan Bonnar (1st year)
Odds: All-Ireland 28/1; Ulster 3/1
League: 7th Division One, relegated. Lost to Kerry, Galway, Dublin, Tyrone and Monaghan. Beat Kildare and drew with Mayo.
Next up: v Cavan, MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey, May 12th, 4pm
A strange league for Donegal, winning plaudits for their adventurous style while losing key games narrowly and, eventually, their Division One status. Oddly, their lone victory over Kildare was less convincing than their defeats and they learned the toughest lesson against Mayo, who relegated them with virtually the last ball kicked in the league. Athletic, full of running and a promising attack revolving around Michael Murphy is capable of carrying them to the Super 8 series.
Manager: Eamonn Burns (3rd year)
Odds: All-Ireland 200/1; Ulster 11/1
League: 7th Division Two; relegated, losing to Cork, Clare, Cavan, Meath and Tipperary, while beating Louth and Roscommon.
Next up: v Antrim, Páirc Esler, Newry, May 13th, 7pm
A hugely disappointing league for Down characterised by inconsistency: they managed to beat pace-setters Roscommon but slipped up in the bread and butter games. Better to concentrate on last summer’s thrilling football and that Ulster final place. Jerome Johnson is expected to return to the squad over the summer, and Down have an attacking gem in Connaire Harrison. Converting chances was Down’s big downfall in the league. It’s a problem to be solved soon if they are to advance in Ulster.
Manager: Rory Gallagher (1st year)
Odds: All-Ireland 750/1; Ulster 33/1
League: Runners-up Division Three, beating Wexford, Offaly, Sligo, Derry and Longford. Drew with Armagh and lost to Westmeath. Beaten in final by Armagh.
Next up: v Armagh, Brewster Park, Enniskillen, May 19th, 7pm
An assured first league campaign for Rory Gallagher, with a late Seamus Quigley point against Longford securing promotion for the county. Significantly, Fermanagh also enjoyed, in the McKenna Cup, a first win in seven years against Monaghan, the team who have stalked their championship like the Grim Reaper this decade. Fermanagh have had just two Ulster championship wins since 2010: a win in what will be a riveting home game against Armagh would be a huge step forward.
Manager: Malachy O’Rourke (6th year)
Odds: All-Ireland 50/1; Ulster 250/1
League: 3rd in Division One, beating Kildare, Kerry, Tyrone, Donegal and Dublin. Lost to Mayo and Galway.
Next up: v Tyrone, Healy Park, Omagh, May 20th, 4pm
A remarkable transformation knows no end. When Malachy O’Rourke took over in 2013, Monaghan were in Division Three and hadn’t won an Ulster Championship since the Reagan administration. You name it, they’ll defy it. Beating Dublin for the first time ever in Croke Park was the grace note to another robust league. Away to Tyrone on a Saturday night: championship games don’t come much nastier. Be assured that Monaghan will be up for it.
Manager: Mickey Harte (15th year)
Odds: All-Ireland 10/1; Ulster 5/4
League: 4th Division One, beating Kildare, Donegal, Mayo and Kerry, while losing to Galway, Dublin and Monaghan.
Next up: v Monaghan, Healy Park, Omagh, May 20th, 4pm
The brickbats from last year’s semi-final drubbing by Dublin followed Tyrone through this year’s league, with detractors complaining that their defensive system was outmoded etc. Meanwhile, Mickey Harte is preparing a team hoping to become the first side to win three consecutive Ulster titles since Armagh 2004-2006. Only Dublin scored more goals than Tyrone in Division One this spring. They will be dangerous.