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Calling the shots

Cathal McShane
Cathal McShane
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue


TYRONE v DOWN (Tomorrow, Athletic Grounds, 2.00pm)

Every year, Mickey Harte maintains he wants to win every game he plays and prefers to win the McKenna Cup seeing as they went to the bother of entering.

And you have to commend him on that target, while also marvelling at their ability to turn out a serious number of polished footballers capable of playing at this level, whatever about the middle of summer.

The successes for them so far have been the form of debutant Conn Kilpatrick, as well as the returning Ronan O'Neill and Kyle Coney. With DD Mulgrew returning to regular action, if Harte can ward off Aussie interest in Cathal McShane, he will be in a positive place before the leagues begin.

Down have also had a good January so far. They began by outclassing a Fermanagh squad that was just slightly more experimental than Down's, with substitute Liam Kerr from Burren showing he does not look out of place at this level. They also had a sensational performance by Cory Quinn against Antrim while Ross Carr and Ross McGarry have been encouraging.

Still, you never bet against Tyrone in the McKenna Cup.



ANTRIM v OFFALY (Tomorrow, Pairc Tailteann, Navan, 2.00pm)

An amusing aside. For the guts of a decade, the two managers of these teams did battle for the ultimate prize in hurling.

In fact, they met in the drawn and replayed All-Ireland finals of 2014. But now Michael Fennelly of Kilkenny will be in an Offaly bib, while former Tipperary goalkeeper Darren Gleeson is in charge of the Saffrons.

Fennelly has also recently been up against Ulster opposition, having played on the Ballyhale side that narrowly defeated Slaughtneil last Sunday in Newry.

He will be happy with how his Offaly charges are going after hitting eight goals past in the Kehoe Cup semi-final last Saturday.

Antrim have strolled to facile wins over Meath and Wicklow to take their place in the final and with positive vibes coming out of the camp since Gleeson's promotion from selector to manager, they are set for a meaningful test after collecting the McGurk Cup last weekend.



MAGHERACLOONE (Monaghan) v MATTOCK RANGERS (Louth) (Today, Crossmaglen, 1.30pm)

The prize at stake is a place in the All-Ireland final, but there is something hyper-local about this.

Just over 20 miles separate the two clubs and they are meeting in the middle, at Crossmaglen, to settle matters.

Both teams have significant history as senior outfits, indeed Magheracloone reached the Monaghan senior final as recently as 2017.

VERDICT: Magheracloone


BLACKHILL (Monaghan) v RATHGAROGUE-CUSHINSTOWN (Wexford) (Today, Newbridge, 1.30pm)

Blackhill have come through a number of seriously strong teams this season and in beating Buncrana in the Ulster final, confirmed their credentials as a team that can take an All-Ireland title.

Their Wexford opposition are the first side to win a Leinster Junior Championship and they might find the going too tough here.

VERDICT: Blackhill


UCD v UUJ (Tomorrow, UCD, 2.15pm)

As they have most years, UUJ certainly have the talent to compete. But this time they are coming up against the tournament favourites.


ST MARY'S v MAYNOOTH (Tomorrow, Maynooth, 2.00pm)

Winners back in 2017, St Mary's are feeling the effects of players being involved in so many commitment and could lose players to county commitments this weekend.

With that kind of preparation, it could be hard to see a win.

VERDICT: Maynooth

ATHLONE IT v LETTERKENNY IT (Tomorrow, Athlone, 2.00pm)

The Donegal seat of learning make their bow at this level of football, having operated previously a level below. Having Michael Murphy as manager was bound to increase the levels of ambition.


QUEEN'S v TU DUBLIN (Today, The Dub, 2.00pm)

The glory days of Queen's Sigerson success have faded over the last few years, but with former Down All-Ireland winner Conor Deegan in charge for the first time, they are taking serious steps.

They will back themselves here but are up against a Dublin amalgamation team with talent to burn.


Belfast Telegraph


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