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Armagh stuck in straitjacket, Derry ready to rock again

We're in that strange part of the season where the provincials are done and dusted, the trophies have been handed out - and hoisted with varying degrees of enthusiasm - and we're now dipping our toe into the lengthy round-robin phase of the competition.

It all still feels a touch like shadow-boxing due to the insistence on allowing a third team through, though we've probably discussed that wrinkle enough. It's not going to change for 2024 at any rate.

Before assessing the four Sam Maguire games this weekend, we might pause and reflect on a titanic Ulster final last Sunday.

In many ways it was a good couple of weekends for the provincials. The scenes in Clones - and in Salthill the week before - were a fair rebuke to anyone who says they no longer matter to players and supporters. There again, it's two provinces that we're relying on to provide excitement and intrigue, and Connacht often has its down years.

Proof that the Ulster championship is a competition apart: Donegal had a homecoming! I loved that. We certainly never had one after winning Connacht titles.

Watching some of the clips, when Jim McGuinness took the mic, there was dead silence from everyone in the crowd and on the podium. Jim is God in Donegal. They were hooked on his every word. He nearly had me contemplating coming out of retirement, listening to him.

Most striking was him passionately saying that they had gotten promotion, they had won back Ulster - and now there was one more cup on the table that they were going after. It was refreshing to hear a manager say so baldly that they're chasing the All-Ireland, especially from a team who weren't pegged as contenders at the beginning of the year.

What impressed me most about Donegal was their composure and refusal