March saw the conclusion of the Ulster GAA Football Senior and Intermediate Club Leagues with Eoghan Rua, Coleraine retaining the Senior title after defeating Dromore of Tyrone in a great Final at Strabane. In a high scoring and entertaining encounter, both teams served up some high-quality football with the lead exchanging hands a number of times throughout, before a late goal from Coleraine finally put daylight between the sides. In retaining the title, Eoghan Rua become the first club since Ballinderry to win back-to-back titles and add to the list of winners from the Oak Leaf County.
In the Intermediate Final played at Emyvale, extra time was needed to separate Tyrone side Stewartstown and eventual winners Laragh United from Cavan. Laragh had held a five point lead at half time during the game, and maintained that advantage midway through the second half. To their credit the Stewartstown men refused to give in, and they struck for 1-01 in the closing minutes to force extra time. However, just before half time in extra time, Paddy Rudden struck the decisive goal for Laragh United that gave them the title.
Interest in the Club Leagues saw an increase in 2018, with 18 clubs taking part in the Senior competition and a further 26 in the Intermediate. Despite the poor weather, a total of 82 competitive games were played across the province in advance of the All-County Leagues beginning in April.
The Ulster GAA Football Minor (U17) League also commenced at the beginning of March and have currently reaching the knockout stages of the Jim McGuigan Cup and Shield.
In Section A, a competitive round of games saw Armagh, Down and Monaghan tied with two wins each at the top of the table with score difference seeing Armagh and Monaghan progress to the Cup competition with Down joining Cavan in the Shield. Section B saw Donegal top the pile unbeaten, joined in the Cup by Tyrone. Derry finished third with Antrim pipping Fermanagh to the final place in the Shield. The League Final on Saturday 14th April will see Donegal face Monaghan while Derry meet Down in the Shield Final. The new look Ulster GAA Football Minor Championship commences on Saturday 21 April.
The Ulster GAA Football U16 Buncrana Cup has taken on a new format in 2018, with counties being divided into three sections of three and playing each other in standalone fixtures. Section A saw Tyrone and Monaghan joint top after an entertaining 0-16 each draw between the counties. Tyrone progress to the semi finals on score difference. Donegal topped Section B with victories over Armagh and Down. Section C saw a three-way tie with Antrim, Cavan and Derry all winning one game each, with the Oak Leaf men progressing on score difference. The next stage, on Saturday 14th April, sees the six counties who have not progressed playing a blitz day for the final spot in the semi-finals which will take place in April.
There was drama in the U21 Hurling Qualifier between Antrim and Down at Davitt Park, with extra time needed to separate the sides. It was Antrim who progressed to claim a place in the Leinster Championship against Carlow in May. Down now enter the All-Ireland B Championship, alongside other Ulster counties including last years provincial champions Derry.
The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge has reached Round 5 for Ulster counties with Group H well underway. Down are the current leaders, winning their four games to date and picking up bonus points along the way. Antrim and Derry follow closely behind with Tyrone also picking up a win. Fermanagh and Armagh played out an entertaining draw in Round 3. The remaining round of fixtures takes place on Sunday 15th April before counties progress to the knockout stages in May.
The highlight of the Ulster Schools calendar, the MacRory Cup Final, saw new winners for the second time in as many years when St Ronan’s Lurgan defeated holders St Mary’s Magherafelt. Over 5,500 supporters packed into the Athletic Grounds and were treated to an enthralling display of football. The MacLarnon Cup also saw first time winners, with a replay and extra time needed to separate winners Holy Trinity Cookstown from St Eunan’s Letterkenny. Both sides followed up their respective provincial successes with victory in the All-Ireland semi finals over Munster sides. In the Paddy Drummond Final, Cookstown comfortably swept aside St Nathys, Ballaghderren to collect a maiden title for the school. In the Hogan Final, St Ronan’s Lurgan completed a remarkable day for Ulster Schools at Croke Park as they edged out Rice College, Westport by the bare minimum to claim a first ever Hogan Cup for the Armagh school. Well done to all concerned.
There were also wins for Carndonagh Community School in the Markey Cup where they overcome Donegal neighbours St Columba’s Stranorlar, and for St Patrick’s Dungiven in the Nolan Cup where they defeated Blessed Trinity Belfast in the final at MUSA. U13.5 and U15.5 competitions have been ongoing in recent months and will reach the concluding stages after the Easter break.