GAA Football

Club Time: An overview of the state of play in Ulster's nine senior club football championships

Slaughtneil and Kilcoo are both heavy favourites to retain their respective county titles. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Antrim SFC

Preliminary round

Sept 8: Ahoghill v St Brigid’s, St Teresa’s v St Joseph’s

Sept 9: Portglenone v O’Donovan Rossa, Lamh Dhearg v Aghagallon

Quarter-finals: Creggan v Ahoghill/St Brigid’s; Cargin v Lamh Dhearg/Aghagallon; St John’s v St Teresa’s/St Joseph’s; St Gall’s v Portglenone/Rossa

LÁMH Dhearg’s first on-field championship success in 46 years has breathed fresh belief into everyone around them. Cargin’s temporary takeover from St Gall’s hasn’t threatened to materialise into a similar domination, to the point where the Milltown men feel they’re ready to go again and have had a strong league campaign. They’ll fancy their chances too on the lighter side of the draw, although a probable semi-final against last year’s beaten finalists St John’s could unseat them.

It’s rarely looked as open. The champions find themselves in a dangerous preliminary round game with an Aghagallon side whose stock is rising. The winners of that will play Cargin, by the end of which we’ll know a lot more about the silverware’s destination. Creggan will be expected to come past either Ahoghill or St Brigid’s.

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Armagh SFC

Opening fixtures (August 24-27, first team at home)

Group A: Whitecross v Dromintee; Sarsfields v Ballymacnab

Group B: Silverbridge v Crossmaglen; Madden v Clann Eireann

Group C: Annaghmore v Armagh Harps; Killeavy v Maghery

Group D: Tir na nÓg v Granemore; Pearse Óg v St Patrick’s

A FIRST ever senior league title for Ballymacnab has propelled them right into the mix as the congregation lines up to try and keep Crossmaglen among the pack. That’s where they’ve found themselves the last two years, with Armagh Harps and Maghery having won the title, and there are no obvious signs that the status quo will return without a serious fight.

Cross, who begin their campaign in Silverbridge this weekend, could find themselves challenged by as many as four serious contenders. Cullyhanna, who only narrowly missed out on the league title on head-to-head, Maghery and Armagh Harps will all find themselves in the mix, while Dromintee and Clann Eireann could spring a surprise on their day.

The group fact that the third-placed team in each group gets a playoff against a second-placed team adds a dangerous intrigue for the stronger sides, but it’s unlikely that any of that top six will fail to make the last eight.

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Cavan SFC

Round one: Killygarry 3-11 Cavan Gaels 1-16; Castlerahan 2-14 Cootehill 1-11; Gowna 3-13 Ballinagh 0-14; Crosserlough 3-18 Shercock 1-10; Kingscourt Stars 3-8 Lavey 0-14; Ramor United 2-12 Lacken 3-9

Round two: Cavan Gaels 1-12 Castlerahan 1-12; Shercock 0-9 Gowna 0-9; Lavey 2-17 Ballinagh 3-7; Ramor United 0-17 Killygarry 1-11; Cootehill 1-12 Crosserlough 1-11; Kingscourt Stars 2-8 Lacken 1-14

Round three (TBC): Crosserlough v Ballinagh, Cootehill v Lacken, Castlerahan v Ramor United, Cavan Gaels v Gowna, Lavey v Killygarry, Kingscourt Stars v Shercock

HAVING gone 18 months unbeaten domestically, and having lost only the Ulster club final to Slaughtneil, Cavan Gaels’ form has hit a rough patch at just the wrong time.

They lost the league final to Castlerahan and have taken just one point from their opening two championship games, with the fact they’ve been taken out of Breffni Park until the final doing no harm for the competitiveness of it all.

In a model copied from Longford’s system, 12 teams play four games each, with an open draw made at the end of each round to determine the next set of fixtures.

The Gaels and Castlerahan drew in round two and there’d be no surprise if they were to meet again near the end of the line. Kingscourt have been decimated, losing 13 of their 21 players that won the title in 2015, while Ramor United have strengthened their resources.

Lacken, Lavey and Killygarry – who beat Cavan Gaels the first day out – are the most likely outside challengers.

***

Derry SFC

Round one

Sept 7: Coleraine v Glenullin

Sept 8: Loup v Claudy; Ballinascreen v Bellaghy; Swatragh v Glen

Sept 9: Greenlough v Newbridge; Kilrea v Ballinderry; Lavey v Dungiven; Magherafelt v Slaughtneil

NO team in the history of Derry football has ever won five consecutive county titles, and the notion of it is Slaughtneil’s primary motivation beyond anything outside the county.

They face a very tricky opener against an in-form Magherafelt who have closer than anybody to knocking them out in this four-year stretch, when they wasted two gilt-edged opportunities in a draw back in 2015.

Glen’s form in a dog-eat-dog league that will see four teams relegated has hinted that they’re on the cusp of realising their potential, and they open against Swatragh.

Last year’s beaten finalists Ballinascreen have endured a horrible year, although they’ve improved since Liam Bradley came in midway through. Ballinderry will be fancied to get over old rivals Kilrea, while Coleraine will be happy out of the limelight knowing they’ll be a strong contender.

***

Down SFC

Round one: Loughinisland 0-11 Burren 1-11; Rostrevor 0-10 Warrenpoint 0-16; RGU Downpatrick 0-7 Glenn 1-7; Kilcoo 2-9 Bryansford 0-9; Longstone 0-5 Castlewellan 0-9; Mayobridge 2-13 An Riocht 0-7; Ballyholland 0-11 Carryduff 2-10; Clonduff 1-17 Saval 3-15

Round two: Longstone 1-10 Loughinisland 2-8; Rostrevor 1-13 Bryansford 1-15; Carryduff 0-11 Burren 1-17; Warrenpoint 1-16 Glenn 1-12; Saval 0-11 Mayobridge 3-8; Kilcoo 2-14 Castlewellan 0-12; Ballyholland 0-6 Clonduff 0-10; RGU Downpatrick 4-19 An Riocht 0-4

Round three: Castlewellan v Bryansford; Saval v Clonduff; Carryduff v Loughinisland; Glenn v RGU Downpatrick

Quarter-finalists: Burren, Kilcoo, Warrenpoint, Mayobridge

WITH six titles in-a-row under them, needless to say that finding a way over Kilcoo is still the only answer for those searching a bit of success in Down.

Paul McIver’s side have made safe enough progress to the last eight, although they had to dig in a bit against Castlewellan for the last 15 minutes. They’re joined there by last year’s beaten finalists Burren, Warrenpoint and Mayobridge.

Rostrevor, Ballyholland, An Riocht and Longstone are gone from the race, and of the eight other sides left, Castlewellan are the most likely to mount some form of challenge,

Burren gave Kilcoo their fill for a half last year but they and Warrenpoint, who have been going well, both might struggle for the experience to get across the line on a big day.

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Donegal SFC

Fixtures begin September 8/9

Group A: Ardara, Glenswilly, Realt na Mara, Burt

Group B: Naomh Conaill, St Eunan’s, Gaoth Dobhair, Dungloe

Group C: Termon, St Michael’s, Four Masters, Malin

Group D: Milford, Sean Mac Cumhaills, Killybegs, Kilcar

AN Ulster title was within Kilcar’s grasp last year but with Patrick McBrearty missing, they face a stiff challenge to hold on to their Donegal title. Eoin McHugh, though, is expected to be home for the championship.

One of their biggest challengers will be gone before the group stage is over. Naomh Conaill, last year’s beaten finalists and 2015 winners, are in with eternal contenders St Eunan’s and the up-and-coming force of Gaoth Dobhair.

The latter are impressively top of the league despite having played the year minus a huge contingent of county players. Their first-day meeting with Maxi Curran’s Letterkenny men could have a massive impact on the whole thing.

Glenswilly will come out of Group A and be hard to beat, while St Michael’s are likely to emerge with the notoriously hard-to-beat Termon from Group C, although both would be outsiders. It’s unlikely the winner would come from beyond recent champions or Gaoth Dobhair.

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Fermanagh SFC

Quarter-finals: Tempo 1-7 Erne Gaels 1-7; Devenish 0-13 Teemore 1-9; Ederney 3-15 Belcoo 1-10

August 25: Roslea v Derrygonnelly

HAVING won all 18 games in the league by an average margin of seven points, there are very few who would be betting against Derrygonnelly to turn their three-in-a-row into four.

Saturday will tell a lot of the tale when they go up against a Roslea side that barely laid a glove on them in the semi-final last year. They’ve been the closest to the champions in league form, and with the Quigleys at hand you never know, but the Harps look well set.

Tempo and Erne Gaels must do it against after drawing, while Devenish squeezed past Teemore thanks to goalkeeper Thomas Treacy kicking a late winning free. Ederney overcame Belcoo, and with the straight knockout format, the rest will fancy themselves for a final place as long as they avoid Derrygonnelly.

***

Monaghan SFC

August 25: Monaghan Harps v Truagh Gaels, Clontibret v Latton

August 26: Castleblayney v Inniskeen, Ballybay v Magheracloone, Carrickmacross v Scotstown

August 31: Monaghan Harps / Truagh v Castleblayney / Inniskeen

BETWEEN 1908 and 1919, Carrickmacross won seven Monaghan titles, and they haven’t won one since. No-one is saying they’ll win this year’s either, but it’s been a while since they came into one with such optimism about their chances.

Last year’s intermediate double winners have stepped straight up and won 13 and drawn one of their 14 league games, but that has an asterisk of the last nine having been played with no county players, and their sole involvement being Aaron Lynch on the fringe of Malachy O’Rourke’s panel.

They’ll know more about themselves when they face holders and heavy favourites Scotstown on Sunday.

Ballybay continue to knock on the door and, having blown a big chance last year, they’ll begin their latest assault with a tie against Magheracloone.

***

Tyrone SFC

Round one

Aghyaran v Omagh; Donaghmore v Trillick; Derrylaughan v Killyclogher; Dromore v Coalisland; Moy v Edendork; Clonoe v Ardboe; Errigal Ciaran v Carrickmore; Galbally v Pomeroy

ALL manner of senior club football in Tyrone has been postponed since July 1, which will no doubt have an impact when play resumes in the coming weeks.

Errigal Ciaran have been flying in the league and won the minor and reserve championships, and having reached last year’s final they will be fancied to come past Carrickmore first up.

Dromore’s opener looks the toughest and although Coalisland have had a difficult year, a reversal of form couldn’t be ruled out. Omagh have lost a couple of players including Conor Clarke and they’ll be keen that Conor Meyler is fully fit, while Trillick’s form has eased up after a blistering start.

They face a Donaghmore side whose form has been excellent on the back of a rebuild on u21 success in 2015, and who will fancy themselves for an upset.

Last year’s beaten semi-finalists Pomeroy lie bottom of the table, while promoted Derrylaughan, sitting eighth in the league under championship specialist Martin McKinless, could pick an upset too if Killyclogher aren’t on their game.

As for trying to pick a champion at this stage, are you wise?

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