Ross Carr previews and predicts the Ulster Football Championship

GAABy Ross Carr
Tyrone won Division 2 this year, but will they add an Ulster title?
Tyrone won Division 2 this year, but will they add an Ulster title?

I remember being told as a teenager to enjoy my youth as time seems to fly as you grow older. How true that is!

It doesn’t seem like 12 months have passed since I sat down to write my preview for the Sunday World 2015 championship. 

However, a new championship is now on our doorstep. The pressure to perform during the two-month period from mid-May to mid-July has created All Stars, but has also cost managers their jobs. 

The Ulster Championship is rightly regarded as the most competitive provincial series. I love the atmosphere of Ulster ‘derbies’, as the hopes, dreams and fears of managers, players, families and supporters are laid bare.

During the last 12 months the pecking order in Ulster has changed slightly. A couple of teams have been revitalised, while others have stagnated.

This movement across the ‘performance scale’ makes for a very interesting championship. So what will the summer hold for the contenders in Ulster?


One of the first decisions Frank Fitzsimmons made after his appointment last autumn was to offer Gearoid Adams the post of joint manager. It was a master stroke. Frank’s passion for Antrim is matched by his humility and together with Adams they have created an environment where ‘it means something’ to wear an Antrim jersey. 

Promotion from Division 4 means that 2016 is already a success, but their big ambition is to secure a quarter-final spot. They will really test Fermanagh and if Pete McGrath’s side are still dining out on last year’s campaign then an Antrim victory is on the cards. 

However, it could be next summer before Antrim reap the benefits of the foundations they have laid this season. 

Verdict: Preliminary round exit.


Armagh have stagnated this spring. Tipped as promotion contenders, their subsequent relegation to Division 3 was an almighty blow. 

League performances fluctuated from the good to the awful – and much in between. Dropping three points from winning positions against Laois and Galway were severe setbacks and they also endured a humiliating loss to Cavan. 

However, Armagh ended the campaign with an away draw against Tyrone and a convincing home win against Derry, which will help to restore some confidence. 

Being away to Cavan is the type of challenge that team boss Kieran McGeeney relished as a player, but it is difficult to be optimistic about their chances and I fear the worst for one of the Orchard County’s greatest ever servants. 

Verdict: Quarter-final exit.


I tip my hat to Terry Hyland (above). Cavan have been awful for most of the last 24 months and suffered two consecutive losses at the start of this campaign. However, they didn’t drop any more points since and averaged 21 points per game. 

They face a particularly tricky first round clash against Armagh at home, so are Cavan as good as their recent form and Armagh as poor as their league position indicates?

We will find out on May 29. 

Verdict: Semi-final exit to Tyrone.


Derry have been terrible to watch for the last few years. Despite a huge effort from new boss Damian Barton to return his county to a style where kicking became the norm, they have yet to deliver. 

Derry appear to be mentally fragile – once opponents withstand their storming opening salvo they will beat them. Worse still, Derry face the toughest draw: a quarter-final against a rejuvenated Tyrone, though they are at home.

Verdict: Quarter-final exit. 


An indifferent first season under the leadership of Rory Gallagher has been followed with a poor start to their second. Donegal still have a lot of quality, but players who were once match-winning performers now look a little tired. 

Maybe Gallagher decided that once Division 1 status was retained it was time to take the foot of the gas and get through the spring with the minimum of fuss. Their league semi-final defeat to Dublin certainly gave that impression. 

With the exception of Dublin, all other potential contenders depend on the availability of key individuals. In Donegal’s case it is Michael Murphy (below), Neil Gallagher, Ryan McHugh, Frank McGlynn and the McGee brothers, Eamon and Neil.

The absence of one or more of this group will have a catastrophic impact on Donegal’s chances, yet they are still very much contenders. 

Verdict: Ulster finalists.


This is a tough paragraph to write, but for a combined 15 minutes of football in three games during the 2015 league, Down could have been relegated to Division 3. Instead they ended up in Division 1. 

However, if you discount the McKenna Cup, the last time Down won a competitive game was on April 5, 2015. This is a worrying time for everyone connected with Gaelic football in the county.

Eamonn Burns has come in and as well as coping with a string of losses he’s had to contend with further body blows as a result of injuries to key players. Those that are there are working incredibly hard. Through this difficult baptism Burns has retained his dignity and has an honest group under his guidance. 

It would be naive to suggest that Down will have a say in the Ulster championship. What I know we’ll get is an honest effort and hopefully ‘the Butler’ will be able to smile again. 

Verdict: Quarter-final exit. 


Outside of the ‘Top Three’, Fermanagh are under the most pressure to perform. It has been a good 12 months for Pete McGrath’s charges. Promotion from Division 3 was augmented by a fairy tale run through the championship, which ended with a quarter-final defeat to Dublin. 

Fermanagh’s new-found resilience was tested to its full when they needed to secure points from both of their last two league outings – away to Galway and home to Tyrone – to hold their Division 2 grade. 

This show of character will stand to them. I think they’ll beat Antrim, but Donegal is another matter. 

Verdict: Quarter-final exit.


The defending champions were extremely lucky to survive in Division 1. A fortuitous opening victory over Roscommon was crucial to their survival, yet they were Dublin’s toughest opponents during the spring.

An U-21 provincial title will certainly have added much-needed energy and enthusiasm, but it may take a year or so for this to have a lasting effect. As reigning champions they have a draw they will be happy with – a home game against Down.

However, they will need to be on their guard. Were they to take Down for granted, or if anything happened to Conor McManus (above), then they could easily suffer a quarter-final shock. I don’t think that will happen and then we could have a repeat of last year’s final in the semi-final, where they should face Donegal. Now that would be a tasty one! 

Verdict: Semi-final exit. 


Twelve months ago patience was wearing thin in Tyrone. The unthinkable – life without Mickey – was contemplated. Then all of a sudden a group of young Tyrone footballers breathed life into a withering outfit. A few months later and this youthful energy nearly got them to an All-Ireland final. 

From the moment they lost the semi-final to Kerry their goal has been to get a crack at the Dubs in September. On May 22, Derry have their biggest game for years, but it’s a stepping stone for Tyrone and even if the home side pull off a shock win they won’t win the Ulster title. 

Provided Tyrone survive the opening 15-minute war of attrition, then they should win. I expect them to qualify for the Ulster final against Donegal, the only team that has consistently beaten Mickey Harte.

Donegal are to Tyrone what Tyrone are to Monaghan – if you get my drift. However, this year I think Tyrone will lay that bogey to rest. 

Verdict: Ulster Champions.