GAA Football

Ulster stars gaze into crystal ball to predict this year's Championship final

Diarmuid Pepper

The Irish News asked Ulster GAA stars past and present for their predictions for this year's Ulster Championship final, and no one could see past Declan Bonner's men.

We asked them: 1) Who do you think will win? 2) Will it be a runaway victory? 3) Which players will have the greatest impact? 4) Who will be top scorer? 5) How far can the teams go in the All-Ireland Championship?

Stevie from Killeavy was in touch, and the former Armagh kingpin said:

"I believe that Donegal will win because of their experience and know-how at this level to see a game out. Mickey Graham has made dramatic changes within the Cavan set up and the biggest change is that there is a total belief amongst the group now.

"They are a really strong side with dangerous forwards and a game-changing bench, so therefore I think this has the makings of a classic Ulster final. I can't see there being too much in it at the end.

"Top scorer for me will be Paddy McBrearty or Jamie Brennan. Michael Murphy will once again be the key difference between the sides but Dara McVeety will have a lot to say also. He has been exceptional so far.

"Donegal probably pose the biggest threat to Dublin on evidence so far but Cavan can shake up the super 8s and cause some shocks."

Fellow Armagh All-Ireland winner John McEntee backed Donegal for the win also, and that because it will be a "game of chess" there will be no runaway victors.

He said: "Cavan have excellent defenders (particularly at 3,4 and 6) and a very solid defensive structure which they won’t change. Their forwards are clinical and well drilled.

"Meanwhile, Donegal are powerful, disciplined and potentially lethal going forward but in this game I can see them remaining very solid and crowded defensively.

"The players with greatest influence will include Martin O'Reilly for Cavan, who has been quiet in championship to date but who is a game changer.

"For Donegal, it’s a case that everyone knows their main players but negating their influence is easier said than done. Top scorer will be Michael Murphy with 7 points."

However, McEntee doesn't back either team's chances in the Super 8s.

"If Cavan win they will have achieved and will go no further than Super 8 series. If they lose they will be defeated in back door.

"If Donegal lose they can recover to reach Super 8 series. If they win they will also fall short in Super 8."

Current Down star Caolan Mooney backed Donegal to win a close encounter with only two or three points to spare.

As for the main men, he said: "If Ryan McHugh and Eoin Bán Gallagher are given the space they got against Tyrone they will cause serious problems for Cavan."

Mooney anticipates Paddy McBrearty to be top scorer, commenting that thus far in the Championship he has been showing "glimpses of how excellent he was pre-knee injury."

As for how both teams will fare in this year's All-Ireland Championship, Mooney said: "I’d expect Donegal to come out the other side of the Super 8s and contend later in the summer. Cavan, if they lose Sunday, it’s sometimes hard to get yourself up for the next qualifier so all depends on how they react to that if they do get beat Sunday."

Antrim forward Matthew Fitzpatrick gave his backing to Donegal also, and like Mooney, he said they would edge it by two or three.

Fitzpatrick said: "Given the quality of Cavan and the nature of football these days, there aren’t many runaway victories in finals like these.

He backed Donegal's Ryan McHugh and Michael Murphy to be stand-out performers and tips Paddy McBrearty to show his class and end up top scorer as he "builds on his recovery from a tough injury.

Looking ahead, Fitzpatrick foresees Donegal making an All-Ireland semi-final at the least, and thinks Cavan has what it takes to be in the Super 8s.

Former Derry powerhouse and current Coleraine striker Eoin Bradley can't see past Donegal either.

Bradley predicts a four point victory and said he has been very impressed with Donegal's fitness and physicality.

He is equally impressed with all of Donegal's forwards, but thinks Michael Murphy is a class above the rest.

"Their main man is Murphy. He’s their leader, player-maker and chief scorer."

As for the progress of either side in the All-Ireland, Bradley thinks progression to the Super 8s will be deemed a good year for Cavan.

But for Donegal, Bradley thinks a spot in the final is in the offing, should they avoid Dublin on route.

Finally, there is no shock that Tir Chonaill native and ex-inter county star Eamon McGee predicts a five point victory for his native county.

But he doesn't think it will be all Donegal's way, adding: "Cavan will dies with their boots on."

McGee's men to watch are Michael Langan and Gearoid McKiernan, and he expected Paddy McBrearty to come away lead scorer.

A favourable result for Donegal, and McGee thinks a semi-final in Croke Park awaits.

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