Football

Lay of the land: How the club championships in Ulster work and who might win them

Donegal has the most convoluted format of the nine football championships in Ulster, yet the outcome is most predictable there - nobody outside of Naomh Conaill, Gaoth Dobhair, St Eunan's or Kilcar have beaten any of those four in a meaningful championship game since 2016.
Donegal has the most convoluted format of the nine football championships in Ulster, yet the outcome is most predictable there - nobody outside of Naomh Conaill, Gaoth Dobhair, St Eunan's or Kilcar have beaten any of those four in a meaningful championshi Donegal has the most convoluted format of the nine football championships in Ulster, yet the outcome is most predictable there - nobody outside of Naomh Conaill, Gaoth Dobhair, St Eunan's or Kilcar have beaten any of those four in a meaningful championship game since 2016.
Marc Jordan top-scored for Lamh Dhearg in the win over Ahoghill
Marc Jordan top-scored for Lamh Dhearg in the win over Ahoghill Marc Jordan top-scored for Lamh Dhearg in the win over Ahoghill

Antrim


Runners and riders: ALL eyes will be on Portglenone as they go in search of a first ever senior championship title, having cleared a big hurdle by winning their maiden league title last month.

John McKeever’s side have been hammering at the door and were crestfallen last year when they let a big lead slip to an Aghagallon side that then did the same thing to lose the final to Cargin.

Portglenone began with victory over St Enda’s meaning that one win from their last two games will be enough to take them out of the group, with Lamh Dhearg’s win over Ahoghill giving them an edge in the race for second spot.

Ronan Devlin’s champions remain the team to beat. In spite of being down a handful of key players they took the league race to the final day. A comfortable win away to Rossa has them with one foot in the last eight already.

Creggan will emerge from Group Three where Dunloy might fancy an upset against St Gall’s. The opening game in Group Four gave us one, with St Brigid’s, after a difficult league, beat last year’s finalists Aghagallon, now under Pete McGrath.

Those two will still be fancied to emerge ahead of Moneyglass.

Odds: Cargin 9/4, Creggan 3/1, Portglenone 11/2

Format: 14 teams split into imbalanced, single-round groups. Top two in each group (including the groups of three) go through to the quarter-finals.

Draw


Group One: Cargin, St John’s, Tír na nÓg, O’Donovan Rossa


Group Two: Portglenone, Lamh Dhearg, Ahoghill, St Enda’s


Group Three: Creggan, Dunloy, St Gall’s


Group Four: St Brigid’s, Moneyglass, Aghagallon

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Armagh

Armagh's Rian O'Neill and Monaghan's Killiann Lavelle in action during the GAA Football All - Ireland Senior Championship Quarter Final between Armagh and Monaghan on 01-07-2023 at Croke Park Dublin. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Armagh's Rian O'Neill and Monaghan's Killiann Lavelle in action during the GAA Football All - Ireland Senior Championship Quarter Final between Armagh and Monaghan on 01-07-2023 at Croke Park Dublin. Picture by Philip Walsh. Armagh's Rian O'Neill and Monaghan's Killiann Lavelle in action during the GAA Football All - Ireland Senior Championship Quarter Final between Armagh and Monaghan on 01-07-2023 at Croke Park Dublin. Picture by Philip Walsh.

Runners and riders: HAVING featured in the last five finals and won three of them, Crossmaglen are favourites yet again in Armagh.

Oisin O’Neill getting back to fitness will be a huge plus for the holders, who should emerge comfortably from a group with neighbours Mullaghbawn and north Armagh pair Sarsfields and Clan na Gael.

Clann Eireann, after winning a first ever league title, are fancied to be their nearest challengers. They will be equally confident of getting out of a group containing an improving Granemore, Naomh Peadar and a Grange side without the injured Ethan Rafferty.

Madden took the league to the final day before missing out in a straight shootout with Clann Eireann, and will fancy their chances in a tough group with Silverbridge, Armagh Harps and Shane O’Neills.

It’s in Group A that a big name could fall. A young Killeavy side, Maghery and Ballymacnab teams that have been about a while and a Dromintee outfit that had a decent Division 1B campaign will make that the group to watch.

Odds: Crossmaglen 1/2, Clann Eireann 5/1, Ballymacnab, Madden 14/1

Format: Four groups of four, with the top team in each section going straight to the quarter-finals. Second and third-placed teams then playoff for the remaining four spots, with the bottom team eliminated. Relegation is done through the league.

Draw


Group A: Maghery, Ballymacnab, Dromintee, Killeavy


Group B: Clann Eireann, Grange, Granemore, Naomh Peadar


Group C: Armagh Harps, Shane O’Neills, Madden, Silverbridge


Group D: Crossmaglen, Sarsfields, Mullaghbawn, Clan na Gael

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CavanOpens in new window ]

Cavan's Paddy Lynch and Sligo's Mikey Gordon in action during the GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Tailteann Cup semi-final between Cavan and Sligo at Croke Park Dublin on 06-19-2022. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Cavan's Paddy Lynch and Sligo's Mikey Gordon in action during the GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Tailteann Cup semi-final between Cavan and Sligo at Croke Park Dublin on 06-19-2022. Picture by Philip Walsh. Cavan's Paddy Lynch and Sligo's Mikey Gordon in action during the GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Tailteann Cup semi-final between Cavan and Sligo at Croke Park Dublin on 06-19-2022. Picture by Philip Walsh.

Runners and riders: WITH eight different winners in the last 13 seasons, Cavan football is perhaps ready to settle into a period where a big rivalry will take hold.

The two heading the field at the minute are holders Gowna, who won their first title in 20 years last autumn with a fresh, pacy side, and the Crosserlough outfit that won in 2020.

The ‘Lough, with an attack loaded with county men, lifted the league title last weekend with victory over Kingscourt but it was their semi-final meeting with Gowna that had people salivating, only for a deluge to fall and destroy it as any kind of spectacle.

Kingscourt remain a dogged force albeit one now waiting eight years since its last success. Ramor United won it two years ago but their full-forward line that scored their entire 1-15 in the replay win over Gowna, namely James Brady, Ado Cole and Sean McEvoy, are all missing.

Last year’s beaten finalists Killygarry endured a horrible start to the year under Terry Hyland, culminating in relegation in the league, and their resources have been stripped back a bit as well.

Odds: Crosserlough 15/8, Gowna 11/4, Ramor Utd 9/2, Cavan Gaels 13/2, Kingscourt 10/1

Format: TWELVE teams all in one group, with a round of fixtures drawn after the last game each weekend until every team has played four games. Top eight go into the quarter-finals.

Draw


Round One: Gowna v Lacken, Castlerahan v Ballinagh, Cavan Gaels v Kingscourt, Laragh Utd v Lavey, Killygarry v Mullahoran, Ramor Utd v Crosserlough

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DerryOpens in new window ]

Dublin's Lee Gannon and Derry's Paul Cassidy in action during the Allianz GAA Football League Division Two Final between Dublin and Derry on 04-02-2023 at Croke Park Dublin. Picture by Philip Walsh
Dublin's Lee Gannon and Derry's Paul Cassidy in action during the Allianz GAA Football League Division Two Final between Dublin and Derry on 04-02-2023 at Croke Park Dublin. Picture by Philip Walsh Dublin's Lee Gannon and Derry's Paul Cassidy in action during the Allianz GAA Football League Division Two Final between Dublin and Derry on 04-02-2023 at Croke Park Dublin. Picture by Philip Walsh

Runners and riders: ALL-Ireland club finalists Glen begin their defence of the Derry title on Wednesday against Dungiven. 

Glen are strongly fancied to make it three-in-a-row, although a permanent switch of Brendan Rogers to midfield and the improvement of Shane McGuigan, already the best forward in the county by a distance, will lend Slaughtneil hope of a first title since 2020. 

The weight of a league played entirely without county players (barring the relegation playoff) failed its first test at the weekend, with an Eoghan Rua team that finished second beaten by relegated Lavey while bottom-placed Ballinascreen, who won the playoff to stay up, overcame Swatragh. 

2019 winners Magherafelt, who have added former joint-Kilcoo boss Richie Thornton to a management of Damian Barton and Brian McGuckin, are capable of putting a run together. 

Bellaghy won their first league title since 2004 and might be considered an outside bet under serial winner Damian Cassidy, while Newbridge will be hoping to push on from a semi-final appearance last year, although Padraig McGrogan's fitness will have a big say.

Odds: Glen 1/3, Slaughtneil 6/1, Lavey 9/1, Magherafelt 12/1, Bellaghy 12/1

Format: With the numbers cut from 16 to 14, the teams are split into two seeded groups of seven in the latest new format.

Top four teams in each group progress to the knockout quarter-finals, while whoever finishes fifth is out but retains senior status for 2024.

This year’s championship will be the first in Derry to involve relegation. The two sixth-placed teams in the groups play-off against the seventh-placed finishers with the two losers relegated.

Draw


Group A: Bellaghy, Lavey, Ballinascreen, Glen, Swatragh, Eoghan Rua, Dungiven


Group B: Kilrea, Slaughtneil, Steelstown, Magherafelt, The Loup, Newbridge, Ballinderry

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DonegalOpens in new window ]

Donegal's Patrick McBrearty and Monaghan's Ryan Wylie in action during the 2022 Bank Of Ireland Ulster GAA Football Dr. McKenna Cup Final between Donegal and Monaghan at  O'Neill's Healy Park Omagh on 01-21-2022. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Donegal's Patrick McBrearty and Monaghan's Ryan Wylie in action during the 2022 Bank Of Ireland Ulster GAA Football Dr. McKenna Cup Final between Donegal and Monaghan at O'Neill's Healy Park Omagh on 01-21-2022. Picture by Philip Walsh. Donegal's Patrick McBrearty and Monaghan's Ryan Wylie in action during the 2022 Bank Of Ireland Ulster GAA Football Dr. McKenna Cup Final between Donegal and Monaghan at O'Neill's Healy Park Omagh on 01-21-2022. Picture by Philip Walsh.

Runners and riders: NO stat could sum up the Donegal championship better than this.

None of the big four of recent years – Naomh Conaill, St Eunan’s, Kilcar and Gaoth Dobhair – have lost a meaningful game to anyone outside that group since 2016, when Glenswilly were at their height and beat Kilcar in the final, while Termon knocked Gaoth Dobhair out in the group stage.

The pairing of last year’s finalists Naomh Conaill and St Eunan’s in round two opens the door to one of them having to go the long route.

They are the two sides at the front of the race. Holders Naomh Conaill have lost key forward Eoghan McGettigan to another injury but they beat Eunan’s in the league final last weekend, having already won the Donegal Comortas this year and reached the All-Ireland final.

Rory Kavanagh’s Letterkenny men will be driven by the pain of last year’s controversial final defeat.

Kilcar remain in the hunt and with time ticking past on a golden generation, they’ll be desperate to add to their sole success of this generation in 2017.

Gaoth Dobhair won Ulster the following year but lost the county final in 2019 after two replays and haven’t quite hit those height since, winning Division 1B of the league this year.

Michael Murphy’s full season with Glenswilly has propelled them back into the conversation as a potential fifth horse. It’s difficult to make a case for anyone outside that.

Odds: St Eunan’s 7/4, Naomh Conaill 11/4, Kilcar 10/3, Gaoth Dobhair 11/2, Glenswilly 12/1

Format: PROBABLY the hardest of the nine formats to get your head around. Here goes.

The 16 teams are all in the one group, from which the top four will go straight to the quarter-finals and the teams finishing 5th to 12th will playoff for the remaining four spots.

It’s very like the Cavan system except that the draw for fixtures isn’t an open draw. The 16 teams were drawn into two unseeded pots (A and B) from the beginning. Kilcar, Gaoth Dobhair and St Eunan’s all ended up in Pot A.

The first two rounds of fixtures were then drawn, with teams from Pot A only able to face teams from Pot B, pairing St Eunan’s and Naomh Conaill for round two.

Every team will play four games in the group stage. Teams from Pot A can only be drawn to play teams from Pot B in those games.

In a change this year, only the top four qualify automatically, with the teams from 5th to 12th into preliminary quarter-finals for the remaining four spots in the last eight. The relegation playoffs will continue among the bottom four as before.

If you require headache tablets after reading that, contact your local pharmacist.

Draw


Pot A: Glenswilly, Milford, Glenfin, Kilcar, Gaoth Dobhair, Four Masters, Killybegs, St Eunan’s


Pot B: Sean MacCumhaills, St Michael’s, Ardara, Naomh Conaill, Dungloe, Aodh Ruadh, St Naul’s, Cloughaneely

Round One: Glenfin v St Michael’s, St Eunan’s v St Naul’s, Milford v Dungloe, Killybegs v Naomh Conaill, Four Masters v Aodh Ruadh, Glenswilly v Ardara, Gaoth Dobhair v Sean MacCumhaills, Kilcar v Cloughaneely

Round Two: Aodh Ruadh v Gaoth Dobhair, St Naul’s v Glenswilly, St Michael’s v Kilcar, Sean MacCumhaills v Killybegs, Cloughaneely v Milford, Ardara v Glenfin, Dungloe v Four Masters, Naomh Conaill v St Eunan’s

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DownOpens in new window ]

Down's Odhran Murdock and Antrim's Patrick Finnegan in action during the Allianz GAA Football League Division Three Round Two game between Down and Antrim on 02-04-2023 at park Esler Newry. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Down's Odhran Murdock and Antrim's Patrick Finnegan in action during the Allianz GAA Football League Division Three Round Two game between Down and Antrim on 02-04-2023 at park Esler Newry. Picture by Philip Walsh. Down's Odhran Murdock and Antrim's Patrick Finnegan in action during the Allianz GAA Football League Division Three Round Two game between Down and Antrim on 02-04-2023 at park Esler Newry. Picture by Philip Walsh.

Runners and riders: TEN Down championships in 11 years has been some run for Kilcoo, and for the last few of those years they’ve been defying the predictions that their time is drawing to a close.

They made it back to an Ulster club final last autumn as defending All-Ireland champions but fell to Glen. It took a long time to get things sorted on the managerial front thereafter, with Karl Lacey involved alongside Aidan Branagan.

For the second time in four years they squeezed past Warrenpoint by a single point, this time after extra-time, but the ‘Point have had a mid-table league campaign.

The first round has thrown up a couple of big ties, not least their meeting with a Burren side that everyone has been waiting for the arrival of.

Kilcoo’s opening round opponents, Carryduff, have been flying under Finnian Moriarty and just claimed their first-ever Division One title.

Mayobridge and Clonduff remain very much part of the conversation and will both be fancied to have safe passage through their first outings at least.

Odds: Kilcoo 8/11, Burren 9/2, Warrenpoint 7/1, Mayobridge 12/1, Carryduff 12/1

Format: THE eight winners of the first-round games will go into one pot, with the eight losers in another pot.

The round two winners on the winners’ side go into the quarter-finals, with the losers of those games meeting the winners from the losers’ section in the back door. Teams that lose their first two games are eliminated.

It’s less complicated than it sounds and with an open-draw policy, it tends to iron itself out into a decent championship.

Draw


Round One: Glenn v Saval, Bredagh v Clonduff, Ballyholland v Loughinisland, Saul v Downpatrick, Mayobridge v Bryansford, Carryduff v Kilcoo, Warrenpoint v Burren

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FermanaghOpens in new window ]

Sean Quigley
Sean Quigley Sean Quigley

Runners and riders: DERRYGONNELLY look like a side not yet ready to accept the changing of the guard.

Having lost a semi-final to eventual winners Enniskillen Gaels last year, the Harps have won seven from seven in the league and done so with a menace that suggests they’re gunning for their trophy back.

They’d won seven of the previous eight Fermanagh titles but the Gaels came with a fresh young side last year and looked poised to take over for a generation after an impressive run to the title.

The inexperience of Simon Bradley’s side told in their Ulster semi-final defeat by Kilcoo but they’ve started to pick up a bit of form in recent weeks again.

Eyes will be looking at Belnaleck though. With former Tyrone championship winning Trillick boss Nigel Seaney in charge, they became the first ever Fermanagh club to win the Kilmacud 7s recently, beating none other than Trillick in the final.

Kinawley have made good strides too and both would be considered good outside bets.

You’ve last year’s beaten finalists Erne Gaels and 2020 champions Ederney making up the field.

Odds: Derrygonnelly 11/8, Enniskillen Gaels 11/4, Kinawley 11/2, Erne Gaels 13/2, Belnaleck 10/1

Format : THE only county in Ulster that links their championship draw to this year’s club league campaign. With only eight senior clubs, Fermanagh have had to try and find ways to keep their flagship competition fresh, and that’s meant a move away from knockout football in recent years that’s worked well for them.

There’ll be two groups of four, determined by finishing position in the league. The league winners will avoid the second and third-placed teams as a reward.

Because Devenish and Roslea are playing their league football in Division Two, they’re guaranteed to occupy 7th and 8th spots in the seeding.

The top team goes straight to the semi-final, with second-placed teams at home to the third-placed finishers for a spot in the last four. The two bottom teams play off, with the loser relegated.

Draw


Group One: League positions 1st, 4th, 5th and 8th


Group Two: League positions 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th

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MonaghanOpens in new window ]

Monaghan's Conor McManus celebrates scoring equalising free during the GAA Football All - Ireland Senior Championship Quarter Final between Armagh and Monaghan on 01-07-2023 at Croke Park Dublin. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Monaghan's Conor McManus celebrates scoring equalising free during the GAA Football All - Ireland Senior Championship Quarter Final between Armagh and Monaghan on 01-07-2023 at Croke Park Dublin. Picture by Philip Walsh. Monaghan's Conor McManus celebrates scoring equalising free during the GAA Football All - Ireland Senior Championship Quarter Final between Armagh and Monaghan on 01-07-2023 at Croke Park Dublin. Picture by Philip Walsh.

Runners and riders: DESPITE a fairly horrendous league campaign that saw them end up in a relegation semi-final in which they scraped past Magheracloone, you’d do well to find anyone betting against Scotstown.

That’s been the case for most of the recent past and the addition of Jack McCarron to their attacking resources will only heighten the sense that it will take something serious to prevent them winning it.

They’re in a group with eternal contenders Clontibret and two sides that had good league campaigns. Inniskeen, with John McEntee taking over from Crossmaglen team-mate Oisin McConville when he departed for Wicklow last autumn, will play in the league final, while Donaghmoyne topped the Division One table before the playoffs began.

Inniskeen’s league final opponents will be Latton, who have been quietly planting themselves back into the conversation in recent years but are still 12 years without a county final appearance.

They’re in a group with a Ballybay side that got its long-overdue rewards last autumn, winning a second title of this generation ten years after the first.

Corduff, beaten Ulster intermediate finalists last year, and Truagh both continue to improve, making their group harder to predict.

Odds: Scotstown 1/2, Ballybay 11/2, Clontibret 15/2

Format:TWO groups of five teams, with the top team in each group after four games going straight to the semi-finals. Second v third for the other two semi-final spots.

The bottom two in each group go into a mini-series to sort relegation, with the team finishing bottom of that group going down, and the second-bottom side facing Aughnamullen, who get a last chance after losing out in the league relegation playoff series.

Draw


Group One: Ballybay, Latton, Truagh, Corduff, Aughnamullen


Group Two: Scotstown, Clontibret, Inniskeen, Donaghmoyne, Magheracloone

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TyroneOpens in new window ]

Tyrone's Matthew Donnelly and Armagh's Callum Cumiskey in action during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round Two between Tyrone and Armagh at the O'Neills Healy Park Omagh on 06-03-2023. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Tyrone's Matthew Donnelly and Armagh's Callum Cumiskey in action during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round Two between Tyrone and Armagh at the O'Neills Healy Park Omagh on 06-03-2023. Picture by Philip Walsh. Tyrone's Matthew Donnelly and Armagh's Callum Cumiskey in action during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round Two between Tyrone and Armagh at the O'Neills Healy Park Omagh on 06-03-2023. Picture by Philip Walsh.

Runners and riders:2022 WAS the first time that the prediction of pretty much the entire previous decade had come through, that if Errigal Ciaran clicked, they’d win Tyrone. The same applies this year.

Their contribution to the county panel has meant a sticky start to the league but their intentions were obvious when they didn’t send any of their county players to the game with Killyclogher, whom they meet in one of the heavyweight first round ties.

Dromore, less heavily affected by county men, sit top of the league, which still has six rounds to go before the championship begins, by which stage the formlines will be truer.

There isn’t a single one of the eight first-round games at this stage that you’d put money on feeling really confident you’d get a return on your investment.

Carrickmore made a big step up last year in reaching a county final. They face an Edendork side under Conleith Gilligan first up, while an ever-improving Loughmacrory will be eyeing a scalp against a Trillick side that’s lost Mattie Donnelly.

With no club having retained the O’Neill Cup since Carrickmore 18 years ago, the challenge is set for Errigal.

Odds: Errigal Ciaran 7/4, Trillick 6/1, Dromore 13/2, Carrickmore 13/2, Dungannon 8/1, Killyclogher 10/1

Format: KNOCKOUT football, completely unseeded. The way championship was meant to be.

Draw


Round One: Edendork v Carrickmore, Loughmacrory v Trillick, Eglish v Dungannon, Galbally v Dromore, Moortown v Donaghmore, Errigal Ciaran v Killyclogher, Omagh v Ardboe, Greencastle v Coalisland