By Niall Gartland
THE group stages are over and the serious stuff is set to begin as the Ulster Minor Championship enters the quarter-final stage this weekend.
Only one team has been eliminated after a stream of group stage matches – namely Down, who suffered a number of bruising defeats in the five-team group, while all four teams from the other group progressed as of right to the quarter-finals.
Reigning champions Tyrone won all three of their group stage clashes, although they were pushed right to the limit in their opening day clash against Cavan. Subsequent to that they finished strongly against Armagh before blowing away Antrim in their final day clash.
Gerard Donnelly’s side are set to take on Fermanagh this weekend, who claimed one victory from their three matches, that being a round-two win over Down that effectively ensured their progression to the last eight.
Elsewhere, Damian McErlain’s Derry will be red hot favourites to get the better of Antrim, who were left shell-shocked by a seriously bruising defeat to Tyrone a fortnight ago. The Oakleafers have bundles of talent in their ranks, and alongside Tyrone, are the only team to have a perfect winning record heading into the knock-out rounds. Indeed, they only conceded a total of 17 points across their four matches, an average of just over four points a game.
Monaghan, led by former county star Dermot Malone, are also tipping along nicely ahead of their home clash with Armagh on Saturday. They won three of their four matches to date, albeit they too felt the force of the Derry juggernaut when they met in the third weekend of April, losing out on that occasion by 1-14 to 0-6. Opponents Armagh will be a little disappointed with how they fared in the group stages as their best result was a draw on the opening day out against Antrim.
In the fourth and final group stage clash, Cavan will face Donegal. Led by Mullahoran man Seanie Smith, Cavan have shown well, winning two of their three matches, the other being a one-point loss to Tyrone. Donegal, meanwhile, have also been competitive – they won the Ulster Minor League before the championship commenced with a fine victory over Derry and subsequently won two of their four group stage matches, so it’s hard to pick a winner.