The first silverware of the year was collected by the hurlers of Antrim who emerged victorious in the Bank of Ireland Conor McGurk Cup. This pre-season competition, excellently hosted by Queen’s University, saw four counties (Antrim, Donegal, Down and Tyrone) joined by two Universities (Queen’s and Ulster University).
The Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup saw Donegal end the reign of Tyrone in an exciting final at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday 17th February. The final had been delayed to this date following a number of weather enforced postponements earlier in the competition.
If you wanted goals, Section A was the place to be with 20 in total across the six games. This included four goal hauls in a single game for Tyrone (v Antrim), Antrim (v Cavan) and St Mary’s (v Antrim). However, it also had the only game across the entire competition not to see the green flag raised, in Cavan’s 0-15 to 0-12 win over St Mary’s in Round 1.
Section B was the most competitive group, with an average winning margin of just 3 points. Armagh and Ulster University served up the only draw of the competition with a 0-12 to 1-09 stalemate. Meanwhile Derry emerged victorious by a single point in both their home games (v Ulster University and Down).
Fermanagh topped Section C, primarily thanks to having the meanest defensive record in the competition. In their four games, the Erne men conceded 2-39, just over 11 points per game. At the other end of the scale, Donegal’s attacking promise was unleashed and they racked up an impressive 8-78 over their five games, an average of over 20 points per game.
The Ulster GAA Football Senior and Intermediate Club Leagues have been warmly received by clubs in 2018, with 18 Senior and 26 Intermediate entries with eight counties represented.
In the Senior competition, seven counties were represented with holders Eoghan Rua of Coleraine back to defend their title. They have made it back to the semi final stage where they are joined by fellow Derry side Swatragh and Dromore from Tyrone. The final spot will be filled this coming weekend.
In Intermediate, last years winners Gortin have been dethroned, after Foreglen topped Section A to progress to the semi finals. They are joined by Laragh United from Cavan, Stewartstown from Tyrone and Dungannon who beat Eglish in a quarter final to join them.
Around the province, with most counties seeing no official activity so far, there are a few notable exceptions. Cavan have commenced their newly graded U17 Football League while Tyrone are piloting an early season slot for their U21 Football Championship during February and March. Meanwhile, Monaghan have unveiled a new points system for their Senior League games involving county players, with five points for a win and two points for a draw available in a minimum of nine games (total League games is 18).
Ulster Schools busy calendar of fixtures continues to roll on. With All-Ireland stages looming in the U18.5 competitions, a number of these competitions will conclude in the coming weeks.
3,271 spectators packed into Sean Brown Park in Bellaghy to witness a South Derry derby in the Danske Bank MacRory Cup with St Mary’s Magherafelt remaining on course to defend their title after defeating St Patrick’s Maghera.
Our Lady & St Patrick’s Knock had the honour of becoming the first school to win a game using the GAA’s new Finish on the Day protocols. After two periods of extra time failed to separate themselves and St Louis’ Ballymena, a free kick competition from the 45m line decided things, with Knock progressing 2-0.
Coláiste Ailigh of Letterkenny were winners of the Danske Bank O’Doherty Cup after overcoming Ballybay Community College in a hugely entertaining game at Garvaghey. Leading 0-10 to 0-02 at HT, the Donegal men had to withstand a strong comeback from the Monaghan side before late goals sealed their win.
Finally, following a rule change at Congress two weeks ago, the new Ulster GAA Football U20 Championship will commence in Ulster on Saturday 26th May when Down will take on Antrim in a curtain raiser to the Senior Championship clash between the sides. The following day Tyrone will face Monaghan, Fermanagh entertain Armagh and Donegal will face Cavan in the Preliminary Round. The Final is scheduled for Sunday 24th June as a curtain raiser to the Senior Final.