AMID rumours of natives returning from foreign lands, injuries miraculously clearing up and veterans being convinced to give it one more go, intermediate and junior teams are getting ready for, and in some cases have already started, their championship campaigns.
The formats range from straight knockout (Tyrone) to 14-club play-offs (Cavan) and Andy Watters surveys the contenders throughout Ulster.
AFTER two rounds of fixtures, Division 2A champions Glenravel lead the way in group one and, after beating Ardoyne, St Theresa’s will take some stopping in group two. Naomh Seamus, who pushed Glenravel all the way in the league, are unbeaten in group three but consistent All Saints can overhaul them by beating Naomh Comhgall in the final round on August 27. Meanwhile, Sarsfield’s have beaten both of their rivals in group four.
Group One: Glenravel, St Paul’s, Davitt’s, Na Pairsaigh
Group Two: St Theresa’s, Ardoyne Kickham’s, St Patrick’s
Group Three: Naomh Seamus, All Saints, Naomh Comhgall
Group Four: Sarsfield’s, Gort na Mona, St Joseph’s
RASHARKIN have maintained the excellent form that saw them sweep to the Division Three title in group two. The St Mary’s club have won two out of two so far and they laid down a marker when scoring 6-20 in their opener.
In group one, the O’Dees (O’Donnell’s) have beaten Eire Og and Laochra Loch Lao and they finish up against bottom side St Agnes’s.
Group One: O’Donnell’s, Eire Og, Laochra Loch Lao, St Agnes’s
Group Two: Rasharkin, Wolfe Tone’s, St Malachy’s, Mac Uilin
STAR-studded Division 2A runners-up St Patrick’s Cullyhanna will be one of the teams to watch in the Orchard County Intermediate championship. The attacking talents of Armagh trio Aidan Nugent, Jason Duffy and Ross McQuillan will give the south Armagh outfit a dangerous cutting edge.
League champions Culloville Blues are also expected to be in the mix alongside the likes of Pearse Og and Lurgan’s St Paul’s.
Three from each group go through to the knockout stage with the fourth-placed club (if there is one) eliminated.
Group A: Tullysaran, St Patrick's, Middletown, Belleek
Group B: Pearse Og, Whitecross, Tir na nÓg, Na Piarsaigh Eanach Mor
Group C: Crossmaglen Rangers II, Culloville Blues, Wolfe Tones, Keady Michael Dwyers
Group D: Derrynoose, Peadar Ó Doirnín Foirceal, Naomh Pól, Carrickcruppen
DIVISION 3A winners Clonmore look like the team to beat in the junior championship. The Robert Emmet’s outfit lost just twice in the league but they will face stiff competition from Ballyhegan, Clann Eireann II and Collegeland.
Junior football can often be unpredictable and Lisummon, last season’s finalists, will hope to be among the contenders despite relegation to 3B.
Group A: Ballyhegan, Dorsey Emmets, Thomas Davis, Mullabrack
Group B: Clann Eireann II, Eire Og, An Port Mór
Group C: Killeavy II, Clonmore, St Michael's
Group D: O’Hanlon’s, Clady, Lisummon, Collegeland
IS there a more open championship in the country? There has been a new name on this trophy every season for the past 15 years. It’s a marathon, not a sprint in the Breffni county and all 14 participants play off in a league stage with the top eight progressing to the quarter-final knockout stage and the bottom four going into a relegation play-off.
Ballyhaise have lost the last two finals and they began the group stage with victory over Bailieborough.
Group: Denn, Cootehill, Ballyhaise, Ballymachugh, Cuchulainns, Shercock, Drumlane, Killinkere, Butlersbridge, Belturbet, Drumgoon. Bailieborough Shamrocks, Cornafean, Templeport
THE junior championship also involves 14 clubs with the top eight progressing to the quarter-finals and the bottom six playing-off in a separate competition. The line-up includes Division One side Arva, Division Two winners Knockbride and Drumalee, who also played in the second tier. The other 11 clubs all played in Division Three.
The first round of fixtures was played last weekend and competition favourites Arva currently top the table after a 25-point win against Munterconnaught.
Group: Arva, Drung, Mountnugent, Knockbride, Shannon Gaels, Swanlinbar, Redhills, Drumalee, Killeshandra, Kildallan, Kill Shamrocks, Corlough, Maghera MacFinns, Munterconnaught
UNDER former Slaughtneil boss Paul Bradley, Banagher will have their work cut out justifying their favourites' tag in a competitive intermediate grade.
Last year's winners Glenullin were one of the sides to put down a marker last week with victory over Castledawson.
Foreglen, usually found at the business end, have made a strong start while Desertmartin's 16-point win over Claudy caught the eye too.
Greenlough are without Enda Lynn but along with Faughanvale they are among the candidates for the Sheridan, Bateson & Lee Cup.
Group A: Banagher, Drumsurn, Foreglen, Limavady, Faughanvale, Craigbane, Lissan
Group B: Claudy, Glenullin, Castledawson, Desertmartin, Greenlough, Slaughtmanus
THE draw pitted three of the top four together in Group A but with nobody eliminated until they've had a knockout game, there's very much a sense of shadow-boxing at this stage.
Ballerin and Ballymaguigan are the most likely finalists if they avoid each other until then.
With forward Gary Keane in fine form, Ballerin - who put a ruthless 9-30 past Ardmore in their opening game - will feel they have the tools to go one better than last year's final loss to Craigbane.
Glack, Drum and Ardmore complete Group A, with the top three going into the quarter-finals and the bottom two playing off with those in Group B.
Doire Trasna squeezed past city rivals Sean Dolan's at the weekend and should top their section now ahead of Magilligan, Moneymore and Doire Colmcille.
Group A: Ballymaguigan, Ballerin, Glack, Ardmore, Drum
Group B: Doire Trasna, Magilligan, Moneymore, Sean Dolan’s, Doire Colmcille
LAST year’s Junior Championship winners Letterkenny Gaels are drawn in Group B while Naomh Columba, last year’s losing finalists, are among the contenders in a very competitive Group A which includes Bundoran who were relegated from senior championship football last season.
The competition looks wide open with Naomh Columba, Termon, Malin and Downings all in with a shout.
Group A: Naomh Brid, Termon, Naomh Columba, Fanad Gaels, Downings, Bundoran
Group B: Burt, Buncrana, Aodh Rua, Malin, Naomh Muire, Letterkenny Gaels
Teams in each group play four randomly-generated games. The first round of fixtures will be played on the weekend of August 19-20. Carndonagh, last year’s finalists, are in Group B alongside Robert Emmet’s of Castlefin who hold the record for county titles (seven) at junior level.
Group A: Robert Emmets, St Mary’s, Convoy, St Eunan’s, Naomh Padraih Uisce Caoin
Group B: Naomh Ultan, Urris, Carndonagh, Naomh Padraig Lifford
LAST year's beaten finalists Rostrevor and fellow Division Two side Liatroim will start as favourites although both teams just about survived relegation.
Division Three winners St John’s are also fancied. The Drumnaquoile outfit lost just twice in the league and have Down forward Andrew Gilmore up front.
Dark horses could be Annaclone who have championship tradition could be dark horses but they will need to be at full strength to compete with the big guns.
Round One: Newry Shamrocks v Aughlisnafin, St Paul's v Darragh Cross, St John Bosco v Teconnaught, Ballymartin v Atticall, Annaclone v St John's, Drumgath v Rostrevor, Clann na Banna v Liatroim, An Riocht v Tullylish
The action begins in the four-team, round robin groups on August 26.
Last year's beaten finalists Dromara are tipped to go all the way this year but Drumaness, having competed well in Division Three, are also well fancied. Kilcief and Ardglass could also cause a shock or two along the way.
Group One, round one: Kilclief Ben Dearg GAC v Dundrum; Aghaderg v St Michael's, Magheralin
Group Two, round one: Dromara v St Colman's Drumaness, East Belfast v Bye
Group Three, round one: Bright v Glasdrumman, Ardglass v bye
TWO groups of four clubs are determined by league placings which won’t be finalised until Friday night when the League is concluded. The top team in each group will go through to the semi-finals. The second-placed team will have home advantage against the third-placed team in the two quarter-finals. The teams that finish bottom of the groups will meet in a relegation play-off.
Group: Derrylin O'Connells, Belcoo O'Rahilly's, Tempo Maguires, Irvinestown St Molaise, St Patrick's Donagh, Maguiresbridge St Mary's, Teemore Shamrocks, Newtownbutler First Fermanaghs
THE four competing teams play-off in an open draw and the two winners meet in a semi-final with the winner of that game progressing to the county final. The losers of the initial ‘quarter-final’ games play each other on the same weekend as the semi-final. The winner plays the loser of the semi-final and the winner of that game gets the other spot on the final.
It seems complicated, but it's an imaginative system that gives all four clubs valuable game-time and guarantees that everyone gets a second chance.
Group: Aghadrumsee St Macartans, Brookeborough Heber McMahon’s, Coa O`Dwyer's, Lisnaskea Emmett’s
IN both championships there are two groups of five who play off on a round robin basis with the top four progressing to the quarter-final/knockout phase.
The county leagues have been competitive with the top teams taking points off each other.
The fancied teams are Carrickmacross in Group One and Cremartin and Castleblayney in Group Two and Doohamlet will want to stake their claim as well.
Group One: Emyvale, Toome, Sean McDermotts, Carrickmacross, Killanny
Group Two: Castleblayney, Cremartin, Clones, Doohamlet, Killanny, Monaghan Harps
DRUMHOWAN will intend to bring their good league form into the championship. They went unbeaten throughout the junior division but were held to a draw by Tyholland who, along with Blackhill and possibly Aghabog, are among the other contenders.
Group One: Aghabog, Blackhill, Currin, Drumhowan, Eire Og
Group Two: Killeevan, Oram, Rockcorry, Tyholland, Scotstown II
PLAYING at intermediate level for the first time in years, Clonoe have looked a class apart so far this season. Spearheaded by the finishing skills former Tyrone star Connor McAliskey, the O’Rahilly’s are riding high in the league with 10 wins out of 10 in Division Two and they have handed out some fearful hammerings.
They will start the championship as clear favourites, but it’s all on the day in Tyrone and the likes of Beragh and Pomeroy will intend to have their say before the finish.
Round one fixtures: Rock v Clonoe, Tattyreagh v Aghyaran, Clogher v Killeeshil, Kildress v Moy, Derrylaughan v Stewartstown, Gortin v Strabane, Owen Roes v Naomh Eoghan, Pomeroy v Beragh
COOKSTOWN Fr Rock’s look like the team to beat here. The squad has depth and the experience of the likes of former county minor stars Martin Murray and John Gilmore.
For an outside bet, Fintona are worth considering. The Pearses have made good progress this year under the management of ‘Archie’ Green and they pushed Fr Rock’s all the way in the league.
Preliminary round: Augher v Glenelly
Round One fixtures: Killyman v Aghaloo, Castlederg v Errigal Ciaran III, Drumquin v Brocagh, Urney v Fintona, Clann na nGael v Augher or Glenelly, Derrytresk v Drumragh, Cookstown v Donaghmore III, Brackaville v Eskra