Ó Sé: Ulster Championship could hinder Oak Leafer’s All-Ireland charge

By Shaun Casey

KERRY legend Tomás Ó Sé believes the competitiveness and the cut-throat nature of the Ulster Championship could hinder the impact that Ulster counties can make on the All-Ireland scene.

Derry and Monaghan reached the last four of the race to Sam Maguire last season but lost out to Kerry and Dublin respectively and heading into 2024, the Oakleaf County are targeting a third Anglo Celt triumph on the trot.

In order to make a tilt at securing a first All-Ireland title since 1993, Ó Sé suggests that Derry boss Mickey Harte has been improving his playing squad during the league with the target of going deeper into the season.

The Oakleaf side have lost just once in 2024 so far, to Dublin in round five of the league, having fielded without a number of key players. Derry did retain their McKenna Cup title in pre-season and sit at the top of the Division One table with ten-points from six games.

“You’re talking a league, you’re talking an Ulster Championship and an All-Ireland series that’s a lot more extensive than before with the new group stages. I think it’s heavy going and I’d imagine that’s what Mickey Harte is at, he’s trying to get fellas to come in for the last 20 minutes of a game and have fresh legs to go the distance.

“I think it’s no doubt that it’s a tougher battle for Ulster teams than it is for Leinster or Munster teams. At the same time I’ve seen it working to their benefit so it’s very difficult. It all depends on where a team is at.

“Some teams from the north would say that all those games toughened them up and got them ramped up and they kept that going for the year. But the new All-Ireland series, I think it’s very condensed, short and it’s very intense so I do think it will have an effect on them.

“I think for Derry, they’ll have to have their eyes on bigger things when they leave Ulster. Kerry did very well to beat them last year and Derry missed so much in that game. They were so close, so you’d imagine that Derry’s target this year has to be to get to a final.”

While Derry are among the top three contenders for the All-Ireland crown, Ó Sé also namechecks Tyrone and Donegal as possible surprise packages, but thinks that Dublin are still the team to beat.

Dessie Farrell’s men are the reigning All-Ireland champions and Ó Sé points to their recent league victories over Kerry and Derry as clear signs that they’re still the best team in the country.

“The league has been watered down in my eyes and the teams aren’t putting the same emphasis on it, so we don’t know where teams are at,” added the Kerry u-20 manager. “I think it’s very hard to call the championship right now.

“Give it two or three weeks into the Ulster Championship and you’ll know (where teams are) but based on last year and based on what we’ve seen so far this year, Derry are going to be there or thereabouts.

“The one difference I see this year is that Mickey Harte is trying to strengthen his squad and he’s changing it up a lot more. If they get to a league final, I’d imagine he’ll go as strong as he can from there on.

“There’s no doubt they’ll be a threat. I think Tyrone are a team that are up and coming and I think they’ll be dangerous as well but are they ready for this year? I’m not sure, I think Derry are the most seasoned team up there.

“It’s great that Jim McGuinness is back as well because he just adds a bit of magic to everything he touches and even before they kick a ball people will be looking in Donegal’s direction as well.

“But you’d have to say that Derry are going very well and they don’t fear anybody really. Having said that, in a space of a week the top three teams (Derry, Kerry and Dublin) all played each other and the Dubs wiped both of them out.

“What importance that will hold come the championship, probably not much, but it was Dublin flexing their muscles at a time when Kerry were trying to beat them and Derry were trying to beat them as well. But you’d have to say that Derry will have a right crack at it.”

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