Calling the Shots
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Semi-finals: Tyrone v Fermanagh (Sunday, St Tiernach’s Park Clones, 2pm). Never making any secret of their hunger for football in these kinds of conditions, Tyrone go to Clones tomorrow seeking to make it to yet another Dr McKenna Cup final.
The last time Fermanagh won this trophy was on a sodden Clones against the Red Hands in 1997 and it’s fair to say that this current generation have something of the optimism of that era of the Rory-Raymie Gallagher strikeforce.
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has used January to get a good look at some of his fringe men. Trillick clubmen Richie Donnelly and Lee Brennan have put their names down as those who will play substantial Championship football this summer, Ronan O’Neill has emerged from the winter looking sharper than in recent years and Harry Óg Conlon, Cathal McShane and the McGeary brothers, Hugh, Pat and Kieran, continue to make the transition to senior football.
Pete McGrath has introduced some young talents such as Ryan Hanna, Paddy McGovern and Daniel Teague, while Pat Cadden and Kane Connor look rejuvenated following a couple of years out for both.
The balance will be decided by Tyrone’s greater experience.
Derry v Cavan
(Sunday, Athletic Grounds Armagh, 2pm)
Should Derry win this, and they might be expected to do so given how strong they were in their group, and Tyrone get through their semi-final, the cross-Sperrins rivals could face each other for the third time already in Damian Barton’s reign.
Given how fractious and occasionally spiteful their fixture became last weekend, a potential final meeting would be very interesting indeed.
Barton has already shown himself to be in the passionate mould of all the best Derry managers, although his numerous pitch incursions last Sunday would be greeted with financial penalties in the National League.
He has brought Ryan Bell back into the fold and despite his tender years he can provide some leadership and begin to take some pressure off the shoulders of Mark Lynch.
Overall, his Derry side look to have the shackles off more than in previous years, being urged to apply more alacrity by Barton.
Terry Hyland had to absorb a number of defections and cry-offs at the start of the year, but while the likes of Martin Dunne and Micheál Lyng have decided to give 2016 a miss, others such as Eugene Keating and David Givney are back. And then of course there is the matter of Seanie Johnston and his return to Cavan blue.
Both teams will operate in the Ulster-heavy Division Two this year, with Derry looking that little bit more determined at this stage of the year.
Antrim v UCD
(Saturday, The Dub, 2pm)
Of all the games that appear vulnerable to the prevailing weather conditions, this might be the one that falls by the wayside.
Dublin and Laois have dominated this group, beating Antrim and their opponents UCD, meaning pride is the only thing to play for here.
Saffrons boss PJ O’Mullan Jnr also is seeking the performance and the opportunity to get some synergy going amongst his panel. He will need to keep an eye out for UCD and Kilmacud Crokes’ Oisín O’Rourke, scorer of 3-13 in this campaign to date.