Ulster U20 championship to run off in 31 days
THE opening four games of the new Ulster U20 football championship will take place across one weekend, beginning on a Friday night, and the entire competition is set for completion in just over four weeks.
The U20 competition comes in this year to replace the old under-21 grade but, in a change from tradition, it is paired to the Ulster SFC in terms of draw and fixtures, rather than the new ‘minor’ (U17) competition.
Ulster Council’s successful bid to the GAA’s Annual Congress to have the rules regarding the dates for the U20 competition altered has enabled them to pair five of its games with senior ties this summer.
The provincial and All-Ireland series’ had been written into rule for the months of June, July and August but Ulster had a motion passed that allows them to begin no earlier than the last weekend in May.
That weekend will see four games played across three days, with the first two of them taking place on Friday, May 25.
Fermanagh will host Armagh in Brewster Park and Tyrone will take on Monaghan at Healy Park, both at 8pm. Those games are unable to be paired with the counties’ senior clashes as a result of the GAA rule.
The following day, Saturday, May 26, will see Down and Antrim face off in Páirc Esler at 5pm ahead of their senior showdown.
The preliminary round clash between Donegal and Cavan will only take place on May 27, and will be in either Celtic Park or Clones before Derry’s meeting with whomever emerges from the Ulster SFC clash on May 13.
Derry’s own U20 campaign will begin against the winners of Donegal and Cavan, and that will act as the curtain raiser to the first provincial senior semi-final on June 3.
The semi-finals will then be played over one weekend, with Fermanagh or Armagh meeting Tyrone or Monaghan on Friday, June 8 as a standalone fixture, with the second semi-final going before the second senior semi-final two days later.
The Ulster final will be a double-header, with the U20 decider due to throw-in at 11.45am, as will the game on June 3.
That is to ensure enough time is left to play the game to a finish. There will be no replays in the U20 competition, with the sides playing two additional periods of extra-time if they’re still level at that stage.
If they still cannot be separated, five players from each team will take frees from the edge of the ‘D’ to decide the winner.
The tight timeframe of the straight knockout provincial championship - exactly 31 days from beginning to end - appears contrary to the preparations in most counties, with many having been in training for it since the beginning of the year.
A further rule change from this year’s Congress saw the rule relaxed regarding the eligibility of senior inter-county players for the U20 competition.
Initially it was put in place that anyone named on the squad for a senior championship game would be ineligible, but that has been altered so that players must actually play in a senior game before they are no longer available for U20s.
The minor competition begins this weekend with the meeting of Derry and Monaghan in the preliminary round on Saturday, while the four quarter-finals will all take place the following weekend.
The introduction of a qualifier system complicates the rest of the format, which includes a six-week exam break in the middle of the competition, starting on May 20 and running until the semi-finals on June 30.
The four quarter-final winners will meet in round two and the winners of those two games will go straight into the semi-final, where they’ll come up against whichever sides emerge from the back door series, which has three rounds.
Some of those games will likely be used as curtain raisers to the early weeks of the Ulster SFC, although it’s been confirmed that Fermanagh v Armagh on May 19 will be preceded by the Lory Meagher Cup meeting between the Ernemen and Cavan.
The Ulster final takes place on the weekend of July 15, with both sides progressing from there to the All-Ireland quarter-finals two weeks later.
And while it is not paired at provincial level, the new minor championship will still act as the curtain raiser for the latter stages of the All-Ireland series at Croke Park.
Ulster U20 Football Championship
*Curtain raiser to SFC game
Friday, May 25
Quarter-final, Brewster Park, 8pm: Fermanagh v Armagh
Quarter-final, Healy Park, 8pm: Tyrone v Monaghan
Saturday, May 26
Quarter-final, Páirc Esler, 5pm: Down v Antrim*
Sunday, May 27
Preliminary round, Celtic Park / Breffni Park, 2pm: Donegal v Cavan*
Sunday, June 3
Quarter-final, venue TBC, 11.45am: Derry v Donegal / Cavan*
Friday, June 8
Semi-final, venue TBC, 8pm: Fermanagh/Armagh v Tyrone/Monaghan
Sunday, June 10
Semi-final, venue TBC, 2pm: Derry/Donegal/Cavan v Down/Antrim*
Sunday, June 24
Final, venue TBC, 11.45am
Ulster Minor Football Championship
Saturday, April 21
Preliminary round, Celtic Park, 6pm: Derry v Monaghan
Saturday, April 28
Antrim v Fermanagh (Corrigan Park)
Donegal v Tyrone (Páirc MacCumhaill)
Down v Armagh (Páirc Esler)
Cavan v Derry/Monaghan (Kingscourt/Inniskeen)
Saturday, May 5
Qualifiers round one (6pm): Two quarter-final losers meet; other three losing teams given byes. If preliminary round winners lose their quarter-final, they are exempt from this round.
Saturday, May 12 / Sunday, May 13
Round Two: Four quarter-final winners meet each other
Qualifiers round two: Qualifier round one winner plus three ‘byes’ meet each other
Saturday, May 19 / Sunday, May 20
Qualifiers round three: Qualifier round two winners meet
Saturday, June 30
Semi-finals: Round Two winners v Qualifier round three winners
Saturday, July 14 / Sunday, July 15
Ulster Senior Football Championship
May 13: Donegal v Cavan
May 19: Fermanagh v Armagh
May 20: Tyrone v Monaghan
May 26: Down v Antrim
May 27: Donegal/Cavan v Derry
June 3: Fermanagh/Armagh v Tyrone/Monaghan
June 10: Down/Antrim v Donegal/Cavan/Derry
June 24: Final