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GAA: O'Fiaich return is welcome news for Oak Leafs

By John Campbell

The GAA in its wisdom a few years ago decided that to all intents and purposes the months of November and December would be formally designated as an official 'close season' for the vast majority of its playing members.

The feeling then was that everyone - players, management teams, administrators and supporters - would welcome a break.

But it would appear, not least because of the farcical situation which currently pertains in relation to the overall fixtures calendar, that 10 months is grossly insufficient to cope with what is an exhaustive itinerary.

In most people's minds, the 2014 season is tailing off - but is it? From this weekend, numerous county teams who exited the All-Ireland football championship at an early stage will be permitted to resume collective training - and you can be sure that managers, especially the new incumbents such as Antrim's Frank Fitzsimmons and Down's Jim McCorry, will have their players' noses to the grindstone.

On Saturday, the 'Match for Anto' is expected to attract thousands of fans to the Kingspan Stadium while the Ulster senior club championship semi-finals between Slaughtneil and Clontibret and Omagh St Enda's and St Eunan's will have the turnstiles clicking merrily on Sunday.

Then on Saturday week Ireland will face Australia in the International Rules Test in Perth while on Wednesday week the GAA-GPA Opel Allstars team containing several of Ulster's top players will leave on their US safari.

Lob in the closing stages of the Ulster club Junior and Intermediate competitions and the delayed completion of several county competitions, notably in Donegal, and it can be clearly seen that the season is about to end with a bang rather than a whimper.

And now comes the revelation that the O'Fiaich Cup competition is likely to go ahead next month.

The tournament was won by Derry last December with Chrissy McKaigue taking delivery of the silverware. Now this inter-county event - Derry, Armagh, Louth and Tyrone will take part - is set to go ahead again and will be hosted by the Crossmaglen Rangers club.

Rangers secretary Gerard Rush confirms that arrangements are currently being finalised for the competition with two double-header games to be played on the first two weekends of December embracing semi-finals, the final and a shoot-out for third place.

"The idea would be that each team gets two games. We are led to believe that managers are keen to see the competition go ahead so that they can look at emerging players in a competitive environment," states Rush.

Derry manager Brian McIver has already welcomed the idea that the competition will go ahead as has Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney.

"Obviously it has been a busy season but the fact of the matter is that county teams are already strongly focused on 2015 and see this tournament as a stepping stone towards that," adds Rush.

Meanwhile, Slaughtneil have landed yet another trophy. On Tuesday night they beat Ballinascreen in the Derry senior reserve hurling final by 1-8 to 0-6 at Owenbeg and next Wednesday they will face Glen in the Under-21 football championship final.

"To tell you the truth, we have about eight or nine matches still to be played in Derry before the curtain comes down on the season and Slaughtneil are involved in nearly every one of them. That shows you the kind of season they have been enjoying at nearly every level," points out county PRO Dermot McPeake.

New Down manager Jim McCorry will get an opportunity to assess the fresh talent at his disposal when the O'Reilly Transport Ireland Down Allstars team take on a Down Selection at Pairc Esler on December 24 with the proceeds going to the Southern Area Hospice.

McCorry, who has just been succeeded as Kilcoo boss by Paul McIver, will manage the Down Selection while Mourne legend Mickey Linden will be in charge of the Allstars team.

Belfast Telegraph

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