Tyrone have to dethrone reigning champions to make 2019 final in derby-packed Ulster Championship draw
ALL-Ireland finalists Tyrone will have to get past defending Ulster champions Donegal if they are to reclaim the Anglo-Celt Cup next year.
Mickey Harte's Red Hands were drawn in the preliminary round against Derry – the third time in the past four seasons they have met the Oak Leafers – and the winners will progress to take on Lenny Harbinson's Antrim at the quarter-final stage.
Meanwhile, in a repeat of this year's provincial final, Donegal face Fermanagh in Brewster Park.
The other side of the draw has thrown up two mouth-watering derbies with Cavan and Monaghan drawn to battle it out at Kingspan Breffni and bitter rivals Down and Armagh meet at Newry's Pairc Esler in a repeat of the 2017 clash the Mournemen won by two points on the way to the Ulster final.
Conor McManus top scored with seven points when Monaghan beat Cavan in 2015. The Farneymen went on to win the Ulster title that year and McManus admitted he almost expected another instalment of the derby.
“We've played Cavan three or four times in the last five or six years so I kind of knew that one was coming,” he said.
“Donegal and Tyrone are on the other side but we have plenty to contend with on our side. Any time we've played Cavan over the years there's always been only a point in it.”
Monaghan had looked set for this year's final after dethroning Tyrone, but they came unstuck in the semi-final thanks to dramatic late goal from Fermanagh's Eoin Donnelly.
“We've lost the last two or three semi-finals now,” McManus reflected.
“It's about getting over the line against Cavan and we'll see where that takes us.”
Meanwhile, Declan Bonner guided Donegal to the Ulster title in his first season as senior manager. The Tir Chonaill men recorded a double-scores – 2-18 to 0-12 – over an out-gunned Fermanagh side that had beaten Armagh and Monaghan to get to the decider but failed to rise to the occasion at Clones.
“It's only a couple of months since we beat Fermanagh in the Ulster final and it's back to Brewster next summer,” observed Bonner.
“We're looking forward to it. It's a difficult side of the draw, you've Tyrone in there also. The one thing you want in a Championship draw is to get a home venue, we didn't get one this time and this is going to be a tough ask for us in our very first match to go to Fermanagh and we'll not be looking past that one.”
A number of rules changes could come into effect in next year's National Football League and McManus gave a tentative thumbs-up to some while Bonner said he was in favour of none of them.
“The sin bin could work, kicking to the offensive mark could work as well and also kicking sidelines forward to get the game going forward again,” said McManus who added that the new rule on fist passing (a maximum of three in-a-row) was “making a lot of work for referees”.
Bonner doesn't see the need for any changes.
“It's down to the coaching,” he said.
“A lot of teams are coaching and setting up defensively and those teams don't win matches. The coaches need to sit down and look at where their strengths are. Yes, you have to look at the defensive structure but you have to be a bit more positive.”
Preliminary round: Tyrone v Derry
Quarter-finals: Cavan v Monaghan, Down v Armagh, Fermanagh v Donegal, Antrim v Tyrone/Derry
Semi-finals: Cav/Mon v Down/Armagh; Fermanagh/Donegal v Tyonre/Derry/Antrim