Published Thursday, 17 May 2012
With the only sweeper in sight mopping up match programmes and chip papers long after the final whistle.
Last year was one of the dourest on record, with perhaps the Down and Armagh game the only one terribly easy on the eye.
What we must understand though, is that Gaelic Football is still very much an evolving force. Old tactics such as third mid-fielders, Sweepers, two man full-forward lines and the big target man have been largely overtaken by more modern ideas such as the blanket defence, wing forwards dropping back, half backs penetrating the middle channel, smaller more mobile midfielders, and fast counter-attacking.
Every above average coach out there understands defensive tactics and can implement strategies to negate the opposition, but where the challenge lies is in the ability to condition teams to implement aspects of a game-plan based on attacking creativity.
Forwards playing close to goal (when their team have or regain possession of the ball) making different runs, clever diagonal foot passes to cut out opposition bodies, people breaking tackles in the final third instead of lateral fist-passing, swiftly switching the play from one side of the pitch to the other, long range points and players taking a few more risks - those are the things we want to see in 2012.
As a very reliable tipster it is time to put my neck on the line and predict the winners of the first round ties.
Cavan v Donegal
In Sunday's opener we have Donegal, minus Kevin Cassidy and Michael Murphy, pitting their wits against an up and coming Cavan team that won the Ulster U-21 Championship for the second year running. It will be closer than last year, but I still feel it is a year or two early for a Cavan set-up that sacked their manager at the end of the National League.
Monaghan v Antrim
There seems to be little optimism in either county at present but the incentive for both lies in the fact that Tyrone, Armagh, Donegal and Derry are all in the other half of the draw. Both sets of management and players will realise that the winner of this game will have a crack at either Fermanagh or a Coulter-less Down team to reach an Ulster decider. Monaghan have home advantage but I feel Antrim may just take something from this game.
Armagh v Tyrone
The plum tie of the round, as these great rivals lock horns. Tyrone won't have it all their own way, but to turn them over, Armagh will need to have uncovered some new attacking talent to assist the brilliant Jamie Clarke. Given the recent retirement of Stevie McDonnell, and the continued unavailability of Ronan Clarke, it looks like the Red Hands hold all the aces in attack.
Down V Fermanagh
Down see this year as their best chance of reaching an Ulster Final since 2003. Standing in their way will be a well prepared Fermanagh team that are notoriously hard to beat in Brewster Park. Minus marquee forward Benny Coulter, Down will find this one extremely difficult. A fit Ambrose Rodgers is a major plus for the mourne-men.
Derry v Donegal/Cavan
If as predicted, Donegal beat Cavan, then Derry will get the chance to avenge last year's Ulster Final defeat, but this time armoured with the two Bradleys. I still feel the Tir Conaill men have the defenders to mark the Oak Leaf key forwards as well as the system to suffocate their game.
I can't see any team outside of Donegal or Tyrone winning this year's Anglo-Celt, but only one can make this year's final. After last year's defeat, Tyrone will be gunning for revenge in what could be the most intriguing game of this year's Ulster Championship.