By Paddy Hunter
‘ULSTER Says Yes’ – that was the view of the majority of managers who joined forces over the weekend to demand an Ulster Senior and Junior Championship.
The move comes as it emerged that changes to the inter-county football calendar this Autumn could see the provincial championship football at both senior and junior level cancelled.
It is also understood that there may yet be an Ulster Club Championship starting on September 20 and running to October 11. The Minor tournament would potentially take place between November 1 and November 22.
An Ulster meeting was planned for last Friday to discuss these issues but was postponed at the eleventh hour owing to the death of LGFA CEO Helen O’Rourke’s father Michael.
The postponement though came as managers across the province spent the day in contact with each other and their delegates. Six sides were due to compete in the senior grade and three in the junior, and the feeling was that the tournaments must be played.
Despite a massively reduced season, a proposal to forge ahead with an Ulster Club Championship was already on the table, however there was no mention of the inter-county series. One possibility that some managers would like to see discussed is that it would take place after the All-Ireland series is complete.
Cavan manager James Daly, Monaghan’s Ciaran Murphy, Tyrone’s Gerry Moane and Donegal boss Maxi Curran were joined by Fermanagh’s Jonny Garrity in calling for a championship whilst also hitting out at the potential running of a club provincial series later in the year.
“We are already squeezed as it is,” said Daly. “We will need girls for as much time as possible and now maybe not having them as they prepare for county action isn’t right.”
It was a view shared by Murphy.
“Monaghan teams have tended to be strong in Ulster which, of course, is great for us and there’s no doubt clubs are the backbone of our games.
“But in reality if this goes ahead we won’t have enough time to prepare our girls, it looks like it could affect us.”
Moane felt that the Ulster Championship was of vital importance, and he felt that it needed a place in the calendar this year.
“Having talked to the managers it’s clear there has to be an Ulster Championship,” said Moane, “Ulster is the most competitive provincial series. On any day, in any year any team could win it.
“My own personal opinion is the championship could be played after the All-Ireland series, there’s no need to squeeze it in. Some managers might want it before with the right preparation but at least there should be the championship.”
Erne boss Garrity was targeting an Ulster Junior title after last year’s final loss to Antrim, and he is hoping that his squad still get that opportunity.
“We still have regret over last year’s final defeat and would appreciate the opportunity to make amends,” he said.
“The provincial championship is a very important competition for all the counties involved, and it provides the opportunity to have some meaningful competition before the All-Ireland. That should be a priority.
“The ‘Return to Play’ roadmap stated that the club season would take priority and would have a window of 11 weeks, followed by a 10-week inter-county window.
“With the All-Ireland due to last seven weeks, I can see no good reason why an Ulster Championship can’t be fitted into the three remaining weeks of the allocated time. It is possible to run the competition over seven or eight days, or even over three consecutive weekends.”
Last week the LGFA ratified the formats for the All-Ireland Senior, Intermediate and Junior Championships with the draws set to take place next Tuesday.
The Senior Championship will see 12 counties split into four groups of three with the top team in each progressing to the semi-finals.
The 2019 semi-finalists, champions Dublin, runners-up Galway, Cork and Mayo, will be seeded and placed in separate round-robin groups. An open draw will then determine who will join those four teams in the respective groups.
The Intermediate Championship will be contested by 13 teams and will also be run off on a round-robin format to determine the four semi-finalists.
There will be three groups of three teams and one group of four and, again, the group winner will go forward to the semi-finals.
Westmeath, who were relegated from the Senior Championship last year, are one of the seeded teams. Meath, who lost last year’s final to Tyrone, and 2019 semi-finalists Roscommon and Sligo will also be seeded.
The Junior Championship will be made up of six counties with half of those coming from Ulster – Antrim Derry and Fermanagh.
They, along with Wicklow, Carlow and Limerick, will be placed in an open draw to form two groups of three. The top two teams in each will then advance to the last four.