FEATURE: Contending for honours

A look back at Ulster teams’ progression to the latter stages of the All-Ireland series…

Tyrone (Ten semi-finals)

STATISTICALLY, Tyrone have been far and away the most successful Ulster side on the All-Ireland stage since the turn of the millennium. The Red Hands have played in ten semi-finals, winning five of them, a testament to their durability and consistency in recent decades. Most recently they made the last four in 2021, overcoming Kerry after extra-time on a scoreline of 3-14 to 0-22. The last two seasons haven’t been so hot but by the law of averages it shouldn’t be too long before they’re back on the big stage.

Donegal (Four semi-finals)

WHAT Donegal achieved in the first era under Jimmy McGuinness was nothing short of miraculous really. Perceived as a watery, underachieving sort of side in the noughties, McGuinness pulled them up from the bootstraps and they reached three All-Ireland semi-finals during his four-year tenure. And they were all hugely memorable for very different reasons – the 2011 semi-final against Dublin is one of the most controversial games of all time while they produced brilliant performances in 2012 and 2014 against Cork and Dublin respectively. Indeed, that 2014 game is marked out as the only time a Jim Gavin-led team ever lost a championship game.

Derry (Four semi-finals)

COMING through on the inside is a Derry team that has made remarkable progress in recent years. The Oakleaf County made the last four of the hunt for the All-Ireland in 2001 and 2004 (and they really had the measure of Galway in 2001 before everything unravelled on the home straight) but it took nearly two decades to make it back to the last four. They couldn’t have any complaints about the manner of defeat to Galway in 2022 but they really came to the party a year later as they produced a dynamic performance against Kerry, ultimately falling short.

Armagh (Three semi-finals)

QUARTER-final defeats are threatening to become something of a habit for Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh side and they haven’t reached the last four since his own heyday as a player during an unrivalled period of success for the county in the noughties. They made semi-finals in 2002 (and ended up winning the whole thing), 2003 and 2005, the last of which was a Titantic tussle against their big rivals at the time, Tyrone. They’ve given it plenty in recent seasons but haven’t reached another semi-final by virtue of back-to-back penalty shoot-out defeats in 2022 and 2023.

Monaghan (Two semi-finals)

THE Farney County have made it to two semi-finals in recent times, that being in 2018 and 2023. Unfortunately from their perspective, on neither occasion did they manage to break through the glass ceiling and reach an All-Ireland SFC final for the first time in their history. It wasn’t for a lack of trying and in 2018 they fell narrowly short against Tyrone, whose late goal from Niall Sludden proved pivotal on the day. They made it back to the last four in 2023 and they gave Dublin their fill of it for most of the contest. The Dubs pulled ahead on the final stretch en route to recording a 1-17 to 0-13 victory.

Fermanagh (One semi-final)

THE Erne County reached the one and only All-Ireland semi-final in their history back in 2004 with a remarkable run culminating in a famous victory over Armagh in the last eight. That set up a semi-final showdown against Mayo and they gave the Connacht men an almighty scare. The Erne County probably should’ve won the game but were left to rue a streak of wides and were narrowly pipped by Mayo in the semi-final replay. An opportunity missed but what a year they had.

Down (One semi-final)

WHEN Down make it to the big stage, they generally make their opportunity count and they claimed a memorable victory over Kildare in the 2010 semi-final on a sunny day at Croke Park. Yes there was controversy about Benny Coulter’s early goal, but on the balance of play Down deserved their victory as they held out in the closing stages against a strong Kildare side. Down were confident heading into the final but they ultimately fell short by a point against a Cork side that had been kicking on the door for years at that stage.

Cavan (One semi-final)

PLAYING behind closed doors at Croke Park made for a surreal spectacle but that shouldn’t detract from Cavan’s surge to the last four during 2020 (also known as, ‘the Covid year’). Mickey Graham’s side defied expectations and then some by clinching an unexpected Ulster title, their first in a quarter of a century, but realistically it was going to be nigh on impossible to get the better of the Dubs with a place in the final up for grabs. They produced a reasonable performance in the circumstances but Dessie Farrell had done his homework and kept the Cavan dangermen reasonably quiet.

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