Tyrone aim to extend hot streak as McGeeney hails Armagh talent
Mickey Harte remains on course to fulfil his aim of lifting the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup for the fifth successive time.
His Tyrone side, having chalked up victories over Queen's and Derry to date in Section A, face Antrim in the third round tonight as clear favourites to copper-fasten a semi-final berth.
And among the frontline candidates to join them are Fermanagh and Cavan, who meet Donegal and Monaghan respectively.
Yet such has been the competitive nature of the overall fare to date that teams such as Armagh, Derry, St Mary's, Donegal and UUJ still have a mathematical chance of reaching the last four.
This will certainly add spice to tonight's fixtures programme with Tyrone's rich mix of youth and experience set to maintain their unbeaten record which has spanned four matches including their outings in winning the O'Fiaich Cup last month.
Aidan McCrory, Jonathan Munroe, Niall Sludden, Richie Donnelly, Peter Harte, Conor McAliskey and Patrick Quinn embody the amalgam of old and new and tonight they come up against Antrim, who crashed to Derry in their first game before overcoming Queen's.
Brian Neeson, Conor Murray, Kevin Niblock, Michael McCann and Justin Crozier are set to again underpin the Saffrons.
Fermanagh's clash with Donegal in Section B promises to be a feisty affair given that the visitors were stung by that reversal against St Mary's on Sunday while Peter McGrath's side are intent on maintaining their winning ways.
Sean Quigley, Barry Mulrone, James McMahon and Tomás Corrigan are in hot form for the Ernemen while Odhran MacNiallais, Leo McLoone, Frank McGlynn and Martin O'Reilly can bolster Donegal's challenge.
Armagh's stunning comeback against Monaghan at the weekend, which yielded a one-point win, has triggered considerable interest in tonight's meeting with UUJ at the Athletic Grounds where the students will be anxious to atone for their poor lapse against Cavan.
Orchard County boss Kieran McGeeney may be without Andrew Murnin and Charlie Vernon but feels his team are moving in the right direction.
"Some of the new lads played well against Monaghan and we got a few good scores too," McGeeney pointed out.
Derry face Queen's at Owenbeg having scored eight goals in their two games to date.
Meanwhile, Down may be out of contention for the semi-finals but Eamonn Burns is keen to see the side step up against St Mary's tonight at Pairc Esler.
"We now have another opportunity to look at players in different positions," said Burns.
Monaghan, also out of the last-four race, face Cavan.
Antrim and Ulster hurling champions Ruairí Óg Cushendall will play their All-Ireland semi-final against Sarsfields of Galway at Páirc Teilteann, Navan, on Saturday, February 6 (2pm).
A week later, Armagh and Ulster football kings Crossmaglen Rangers take the latest step in their quest to equal Cork's Nemo Rangers record of seven All-Ireland titles when they face Castlebar Mitchells at Kingspan Breffni Park (6.15pm).