BBC BLOGS - Austin O'Callaghan

Archives for May 2010

Tyrone simply too hot for Antrim

Austin O'Callaghan | 09:59 UK time, Monday, 24 May 2010

We said goodbye to the Championship ties at Casement Park on Sunday. It was Peter Canavan's idea.

And a good one at that, given that the temperature in our portable studio - made mostly from metal - was about 150 degrees! We were like three fried eggs in those seats.

The panoramic view of the west Belfast pitch through our studio window is arguably the most impressive of all the Ulster venues - and was enhanced by the fine weather. And yet, it was a strange sort of day. Was it just me or was the atmosphere surprisingly flat given the summer weather and the healthy attendance of 18,249?

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Dermot Carlin and Tyrone were too good for Tony Scullion's Antrim at Casement Park

Maybe the energy-sapping sun had a little to do with it. But it is more likely that the subdued nature of the home crowd was largely down to Tyrone. They were impressive. Those rumours of 'decline' can now go in the bin thanks very much.

From Stephen O'Neill's point in the opening minute, to Brian Dooher playing like an 18-year-old, to Owen Mulligan's goal which took me back to Croke Park '05 for a moment. They were a level above their opponents.

It wasn't a perfect display but it sends out a little message to the rest. My pre-championship prediction of the Anglo Celt Cup passing by Armagh and Tyrone this summer looks to be on shaky ground already.

There will, hopefully, be better days ahead for Antrim. But they were well beaten here however you slice it.

Even when they closed the gap to three points, you never really felt Tyrone were in serious danger. Peter Canavan said as much after the Kevin Niblock goal. Tyrone, he felt, could 'up it' again if they needed to. And he was right.

We will bring our ties to McCumhaill Park this Sunday. Oisin McConville swaps his Radio Ulster microphone for a Championship suit this week. He will be with us in Ballybofey for Donegal v Down.

The big question in the west is 'what sort of Donegal team will show up'?

I was at their team media conference last weekend. The one thing they won't lack for is commitment.

Take 20-year-old Michael Murphy who sat a university exam in Dublin on Saturday morning, then jumped into a car and headed to Ballybofey to field an hour of questions from the media. Then he togged out for a 90-minute training session with his team-mates in 27 degrees of heat.

He has a lot on his plate at the moment but seems to have a steady and determined head on those big shoulders.

I am delighted to see Down on the comeback trail. They have a lot of promise. But I am going to take a punt on Donegal this weekend to join Tyrone in the semis.

Not exactly a feast of football

Austin O'Callaghan | 20:46 UK time, Monday, 17 May 2010

The way to a TV man's heart is through his belly. And the best way to ensure the BBC Championship outside broadcast crew put in a Championship performance at a live game is to feed them beforehand.

Food is routinely organised for the cameramen, rigging crew and production staff at or near the ground on the morning of a match.

So, we rolled into Celtic Park first thing in Sunday morning to find the BBC catering, which had been prepared and laid out in the old physio room, had already been eaten.

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Derry's Eoin Bradley and Andy Mallon in a preliminary round tussle at Celtic Park

The culprits? The men in bibs. Ulster's hard working championship stewards who, completely innocently, helped themselves to the grub unaware that the catering was in fact for someone else.

I know what you are thinking. Fair play to the stewards for spotting a free breakfast at the Beeb's expense! And we had a good chuckle about it too. The catering man was quickly dispatched to retrieve a fresh round of ham sandwiches and soon everyone was happy.

As for the football, the Armagh v Derry has come in for a fair bit of stick in terms of quality.

Read the rest of this entry

Will the Armagh and Tyrone dominance end?

Austin O'Callaghan | 13:02 UK time, Wednesday, 12 May 2010

We are putting the finishing touches to a new summer of The Championship on BBC Sport NI.

All eight Ulster matches will be live - which is a first. And there will be a few team changes along the way.

Peter Canavan will be in our Casement Park studio on 23 May for Antrim v Tyrone.

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Some of BBC Sport NI's Championship team - Mark Sidebottom, Jarlath Burns, Austin O'Callaghan, Thomas Kane aned Martin McHugh warm up for a busy summer

Former Armagh footballer Oisin McConville will be with us for the trip to Ballybofey and Donegal v Down a week later.

And for those of you who enjoy the McHugh v Burns jousting, there will be plenty of that too. You can now follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bbcchampionship which will be the fastest way to find out what we have planned for the programme each week.

I am asked regularly who I think will win Ulster this year? And the honest answer is: I haven't a clue. There are too many questions about several of the counties at the moment.

Are Armagh as good as they looked in league final at Croke Park? What sort of shape are Tyrone really in?

Might Antrim become victims of the hype surrounding the team going into the Tyrone match? Will Ambrose Rogers be fit for Down?

What Donegal team will turn up in Ballybofey on 30 May? Are Fermanagh still in freefall?

Is morale really as bad in Derry as the rumours suggest? For the record, I visited Owenbeg last week for the Derry players' media night and it looked like a fairly happy and contented camp to me.

The last county to win Ulster outside of Armagh and Tyrone was Derry in 1998. That is a long time.

I am a hesitant man for making predictions - mainly because I have a spectacular habit of giving teams the kiss of death. So, with trembly knees and a total lack of conviction, my Ulster Championship prediction for 2010 is this: the Armagh/Tyrone stranglehold on the Anglo-Celt will end this summer.

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