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Joe Kernan: Rookies ready to rumble in McKenna Cup battles

The word ‘experimental’ is widely used in relation to the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup competition.

Rookies ready to rumble in McKenna Cup battlesHigh hopes: Mickey Harte expects Tyrone to sparkleTHE word ‘experimental’ is widely used in relation to the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup competition.

Team line-ups are largely unfamiliar, fitness levels tend to be questionable in some cases and players can find themselves allocated to unusual positions.

Yet the competition is not the low-key affair that it used to be. Tyrone boss Mickey Harte has already made it clear that newcomers to his side are not keeping places warm for more established players while Down manager James McCartan suggests he has gained an insight as to just what players might offer him cover in certain positions for the National League.

Some high-profile players were asked to fulfil unusual roles last weekend. Charlie Vernon lined out at full-back for Armagh, Peter Harte was at centre-half-back for Tyrone, Dan Gordon filled in at wing-forward for Down and Shane Lyons was posted at midfield for Fermanagh.

And a number of hitherto unknown players such as Jonathan Lafferty (Tyrone), Stefan Campbell (Armagh), Eoin Donnelly (Fermanagh) and Marcus Miskelly (Down) served notice that they have their sights set on long-term tenancies in their respective county sides.

These rookie players intend to maximise their opportunities in the McKenna Cup this month although of course it is much too early to assess their worth.

The sides that eventually make it through to the McKenna Cup final will perhaps gain extra benefits in advance of the league as the matches will help hone fitness and cement positional selections.

Indeed, within the next couple of weeks Ulster’s county bosses will have a fair idea of just how their teams will line up when the league blasts off over the course of the first weekend in February.

The fresh faces will get further chances to bed down in the various teams while some of the more established players who are not expected to take any part in the McKenna Cup will come filtering back.

Competition for places is expected to be stepped up — and few managers will complain if this turns out to be the case.

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