When I ventured forth to take in the Tyrone v Derry Dr McKenna Cup game at Omagh on Sunday, I did not quite expect to sample no fewer than three plus-factors.
The first was the 4,000-plus crowd — and this on the first Sunday in January, too, a day that is traditionally much better spent lounging in front of a roaring fire.
The second was a keenly-contested match between two surprisingly fit sides both obviously keen to lay down an early marker as to their aspirations for 2013.
And the third was the display of Derry centre-threequarters Ryan Bell, a 19-year-old novice who played with all the poise and coolness of a veteran.
His use of the ball, ability to create space and penchant for landing long-range points greatly impressed me.
My brief at Healy Park was to observe some of the more seasoned players as we get down to business for the forthcoming inter-provincial championship, but I could not take my eyes off the very impressive Bell.
Up until Sunday he had been merely a name on a programme
to me, but now I feel sure that he could play a key role in bringing Derry to the fore this year.
New Oak Leaf county boss Brian McIver certainly has belief in the player as he had no hesitation in plunging him into the fray against Tyrone in a key role and that speaks volumes for Bell’s ability.
McIver is one of four new Ulster county bosses and although he did not taste success on Sunday, he could perhaps land his first victory on Saturday night when his team faces UUJ at Celtic Park.
There was success, though, for Malachy O’Rourke with Monaghan and Frank Dawson with Antrim, while Paul Grimley will make his sideline debut with Armagh against Cavan on Saturday night at the Athletic Grounds.
O’Rourke faces a massive challenge in bringing Monaghan up in the world after a prolonged spell without meaningful success, while Dawson is bidding to steer the Saffrons back to where they were in 2009 when they reached the Ulster final only to fall to Tyrone.
The remainder of the McKenna Cup competition will prove a challenging period for the new managers in particular as they seek to build settled teams for the Allianz League which gets under way early next month.
And when the league starts, I will certainly be keeping a close eye on Derry’s Ryan Bell among others, that’s for sure.