We have made no secret of our admiration for Ulster Football on our pages and our Podcast so far this summer. The championship concludes today with the Ulster final. Could it prove to be the game of the summer so far?
Rarely has there been so much neutral anticipation for an Ulster Football Final. It is usually the game that everybody wants to avoid. People tend to not watch it and those who do watch it generally sit back and criticise.
It really is hard to figure out if Ulster has improved dramatically or if the other championships have gotten drastically worse. Nonetheless, the Ulster Football Championship is by far the healthiest GAA competition out there at the moment. Today’s game gives Ulster a chance to really enhance its current reputation.
It would be terrible to see teams resort to cynicism, play acting and the other traits that have become common in Ulster. The war of attrition was always appreciated and respected but the style of play of the Ulster teams rarely was. As of now, this has changed and today will tell a lot of where Ulster football lies.
This really could be a cracker. Two of the form teams in Ireland are going head to head and by the looks of the season so far, both of them have their eyes set on the provincial title. The big prize is the Sam Maguire in September for both Donegal and Tyrone, but both look determined to go the most direct route possible.
Tyrone have been an up and coming team for the last few years. Mickey Harte has overseen the period of transition. It was a time when they remained competitive, but they were a long way short of really contending for honours.
They have failed in Ulster in recent times as Donegal and Monaghan shared the last four titles between them. While Tyrone had some decent runs in the qualifiers, they were never really seen as a danger to the top tier, but that has now changed.
There is a new breed of young players in this Tyrone side. Peter Harte has been around for a while, but he is now growing into one the best around. Players like Tiernan McCann, Ronan O’Neill and Conor McAliskey have brought fresh energy to the table and they are currently playing some of the best football out there.
Sean Cavanagh is no longer the one and only go-to man. He is still a highly influential figure as is his brother Colm and Mattie Donnelly, but they have a strong depth at the moment and this provincial success could be a real coup for a growing side.
Donegal appeared to be going a bit stale. They were by no means an old side, but it was a team playing a very similar system to the team that won the All-Ireland in 2012. There weren’t many changes to the team and it seemed hard to know where a new injection was going to come from.
But Donegal have looked very hungry this year. They accounted for an improving Fermanagh side without much fuss and went to battle twice with Monaghan. It was a titanic battle and it took a lot of hunger and quality to come through those two games and they are two games that will surely stand to them.
Mark McHugh has returned which is a big boost. His energy and fitness is a huge part of Donegal’s game plan. He was a vital cog in the armour when they lifted Sam Maguire four years ago and could be that injection they needed. Marty O’Reilly is showing up well in the forwards and has taken the burden off Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty.
These are the two form teams in the country playing today. Silverware is on the line and while there is a safety net for both sides, it has to be thought that both teams will attack this game as if its last chance saloon.
Let’s hope that the game is remembered for the football. Hopefully both sides will leave the antics at home and go out and play football in the way they have shown so far this summer. It is all set up to be the game of the championship so far, let’s hope that it is.