NOW that all the county finals have taken place, my favourite competition of all time swings into action as the Ulster Club Championship gets underway this month.
This competition has a very special personal meaning, but that aside I’ve always loved watching this competition.
Much like the county scene, Ulster, in my opinion, has the most competitive club championship out ther and it has been for this last number of years.
In most other provinces you can nearly pick who will come out on top when you look through the teams, but in Ulster each year it’s next to impossible to pick an eventual winner.
Over the last number of years we have watched the winners coming out of Ulster doing well in the All-Ireland series with Kilcoo having reached the Promised Land. And, even before that, one or two teams could and should perhaps have made the breakthrough to All Ireland glory.
When you run through the teams in Ulster, there are some massive teams in there with a tremendous amount of experience in this competition. The likes of Crossmaglen Rangers, Enniskillen Gaels, Kilcoo, Glen, Errigal Ciaran…the list goes on. This year’s competition may be one of the best yet.
The competition kicks off this weekend when Crossmaglen take on experienced campaigners Ballybay, having won their long sought after Monaghan title.
The games come thick and fast after that, so I’m really looking forward to some intriguing battles over the coming weeks.
When looking at an overall winner, I suppose it’s hard to look past Down kingpins Kilcoo. The likes of Glen, with their experience of last year’s games under their belt, will no doubt be out to try to wrestle that title away from them.
I think the one thing that makes this competition what it is is that the pressure as each team has won their county championship. The shackles come off a little and we see a lot more open expansive, free-flowing football.
We have mentioned Kilcoo and Glen, but another team I would keep my eye on is Crossmaglen.
They have struggled in this competition lately after dominating it for so many years but there’s something about them this year that I think they have their eyes set on the big prize.
I listened to a podcast (The Smaller Fish) recently where Jamie Clarke was interviewed and he spoke quite openly about their desire to get back to the top table in Ulster.
For me, that’s one team to look out for over the next few weeks. They have a good mix of youth and experience with the older heads Jamie Clarke and Aaron Kernan have been steadying the ship when needed.
That’s the exact formula you need at this level, especially with conditions worsening over the winter and games sometimes just have to be ground out.
Elsewhere Donegal champions Glenties will fancy their chances of going deep into the competition and then you have Cargin who have been in the competition for the last 10 years or so year in year out so that experience is massive for them.
The last team I’d like to talk about is Tyrone champions Errigal Ciaran because traditionally over the last number of years Tyrone teams have struggled in Ulster after coming out of a very competitive club scene in their own county. It will be interesting to see how Mark Harte and Adrian O’Donnell approach this year’s campaign so let the games begin.