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team by team Donegal look best equipped of Ulster teams to land the Sam Maguire

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Michael Murphy of Donegal in action against Rory Brennan of Tyrone

Michael Murphy of Donegal in action against Rory Brennan of Tyrone

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney

Donegal manager Declan Bonner

Donegal manager Declan Bonner

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

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Michael Murphy of Donegal in action against Rory Brennan of Tyrone

I MUST admit I didn't really believe I'd get the opportunity to do a preview of this year's championship due to the current situation.

It has been worrying and the uncertainty about the future leaves us in a state of confusion and frustration.

And yet as I was often told by my mum when I was younger, 'a good thing to remember is that someone has it a lot worse than we do'. So, to all our readers, hang in there and stay safe.

With the resumption of the league now complete, the return of a knockout championship for the first time since 2000 is ready to rock.

Given the poor press we received during the culminations of some club county finals, the organisation, I feel, needs the championship season to be completed successfully as much as the country needs sport to play a role during the next few weeks.

Anyway to the job at hand: Traditionally the Ulster Championship has been the most competitive of the provincial contests and I believe this strange year will be no different. A few teams have no chance, a couple have a puncher's chance but the winner will come from either Tyrone, Donegal or Monaghan.

Antrim

Probably, more than most, manager Lenny Harbinson suffered from the initial lockdown. They were flying and all set for promotion when the leagues were halted and upon their resumption his team suffered a humiliating defeat away to Wicklow.

Given they will play the winners from the preliminary game between Monaghan and Cavan, it's difficult to see how a Division 4 team will beat a team from the top tier.

VERDICT: Quarter-final exit

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Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney


Armagh

Over the past couple of years, I've thought Kieran McGeeney's men could be the team to cause the shock and perhaps win the Anglo-Celt Cup.

They possess big men who are physical and athletic. They consistently kick 16/17 scores every game they play in. And yet, time and time again, they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

If they are to make 2020 an exception, they need to address two key areas. They concede too many goals and when things get feisty, they fail to control the balance between intensity and ill-discipline.

VERDICT: Semi-final exit

Cavan

It's really difficult to know how Cavan's preparation has been given the severity of the pandemic within the county.

I'm sure like most inter-county set-ups compliance, procedures and protocols have been of the highest order in Mickey Graham's camp.

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So I presume he'll have his charges firing and ready for battle next weekend when they travel to their old foes Monaghan in Clones. Unfortunately for Cavan I don't think they'll have enough to succeed.

VERDICT: Preliminary round exit

Derry

They were very hit-and-miss during their league campaign and on the one night I saw them in Newry, they must have been kicking themselves that they returned home pointless. That one game probably cost them promotion to Division 2 and the perfect platform to launch their championship campaign.

They host an Armagh team that is big and physical and will expect to proceed to the semi-finals. Derry need to keep the reins on Armagh and frustrate the life out of them for as long as possible. Do that and they have a puncher's chance on home ground.

VERDICT: First-round exit

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Donegal manager Declan Bonner

Donegal manager Declan Bonner

Donegal manager Declan Bonner


Donegal

The current holders are my favourites to be kings of Ulster. They seem to have enjoyed the break and looked fresh during the completion of the league. Declan Bonner and his players are close and this short intense season could provide them with the perfect stage to capture Sam for a third time.

VERDICT: Winners

Down

At the beginning of 2020 promotion from their league campaign was far more important than a prolonged championship.

Given that promotion was secured without kicking a ball when the league resumed, the ultimate goal was achieved. However, the absence of captain Darren O'Hagan and Connaire Harrison and the lack of competitive football since March will be their undoing in Brewster Park.

VERDICT: Quarter-final exit

Fermanagh

Like Cavan, Fermanagh's championship preparations have been thrown into turmoil as a result of Covid-19. Their failed request for help from Croke Park when most depleted, will be used to circle the wagons and I've no doubt they'll relish the opportunity to turn Down over and proceed to the semi-finals.

VERDICT: Semi-final exit

Monaghan

The return of the 'Banty' McEnaney will have provided a fresh enthusiasm to this outfit. Over the past six years they have cemented their position as one of the country's top-six teams and will fancy their chances to win a third title in seven years.

Should they overcome arch-rivals Cavan in the preliminary round, they meet Antrim in the quarter-finals.

This route provides the opportunity of a semi-final clash with either Fermanagh or Down and if successful they'll meet, I believe, Donegal in the final, a team they beat in their two previous final clashes.

VERDICT: Beaten finalists

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Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte


Tyrone

The return of Conor McKenna from Australia has softened the blow Tyrone suffered with the loss of Conor McShane. I was disappointed with their league performances and while the longer Tyrone stay in the championship the better they become - and I do expect to see a typical Tyrone performance in Ballybofey - I don't think it will be good enough. The twin threat of McKenna and McShane will have to wait until 2021 before they torment the defences of all their Ulster neighbours.

VERDICT: Quarter-final exit

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