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Calling the shots: Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup

By Declan Bogue

SECTION A - MONAGHAN v UUJ (Today, Castleblayney, 2pm)

The first game to take place has a rather fitting off-Broadway location. Once a favourite venue for Monaghan to stage league games and even during the renovation of Clones during the ‘90s, Castleblayney has a certain amount of romance attached to it, although they will be in short supply this afternoon.

Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke will be aiming to find one or two new talents who could make the step up after their squad was depleted through injuries last summer. Jack McCarron is one such name who should be taking ownership of a jersey although his name is not attached to this panel yet, but look out for Ryan McAnespie and the returning Neil McAdam.

VERDICT: Monaghan

 

DOWN v CAVAN

(Tomorrow, Pairc Esler, 2pm)

Jim McCorry's first game in charge is against Terry Hyland, who goes into his fifth season as part of the Cavan management.

There are surprising recalls for Luke Howard and Packie Downey, while they will have to reinvent themselves now that the Benny Coulter era has come to a close. Other absentees include Dan Gordon, Dan McCartan and Kalum King.

With a more settled outfit, Cavan might nick this one.

VERDICT: Cavan

 

SECTION B

FERMANAGH v QUB

(Tomorrow, Brewster Park, 2pm)

As well as his players, Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath has been vocal on just how useful and necessary a decent pre-season is to teams who wish to get going in time for the early part of the season.

Barry Owens may be gone but Ryan McCluskey remains to provide leadership at the rearguard, while Sean Quigley will be injury-free and committed to the panel.

VERDICT: Fermanagh

 

DERRY V DONEGAL

(Tomorrow, Celtic Park, 2pm)

Rory Gallagher's first game in charge of Donegal and, to be fair to him, he has not deviated from previous manager Jim McGuinness' distaste for January football.

He has selected a squad that is part experimental, half curious, with a number of noted club footballers given their chance, including Kilcar's third McHugh, Eoin.

Derry boss Brian McIver by now is very familiar with the talent at his disposal and while he has not included Eoin Bradley in this squad, he will be back for the National League. Those who gain most from taking their chance in this competition include Dungiven's Conor Murphy and Terence O'Brien, who already made his Championship debut last summer with Derry ripped asunder with injuries.

VERDICT: Derry

 

SECTION C

Armagh v Tyrone

(Tomorrow, Athletic Grounds, 2pm)

Their meeting in a qualifier last year was helter-skelter, and it has been interesting to note the commentary since from both sides.

Tyrone secretary Dominic McCaughey claims Armagh deliberately orchestrated a row before the ball was thrown in, and Sean Cavanagh has admitted it was the worst moment of his Tyrone career.

In the meantime, Armagh captain Ciaran McKeever has issued some naked threats about seeing who will be doing all the talking tomorrow.

The sting, however, could be robbed of this game if one side don't take it that seriously.

With Kieran McGeeney taking charge of his first game and all sorts of markers to be laid down, somehow we doubt it. Perhaps Armagh always needed the edge they rediscovered in 2014 to remain competitive.

Mickey Harte has spoken about the need for men stepping up, and the minor generation of 2008 becoming the leaders. Without Stephen O'Neill and Conor Gormley, they have nothing to be in awe of.

VERDICT: Armagh

 

ANTRIM v ST MARY'S

(Tomorrow, Creggan, 2pm)

After a year spent as a selector of the senior team, Frankie Fitzsimmons becomes Antrim's third manager in as many years.

The mood noises are good so far. The strength and conditioning overseen by Mike McGurn has been praised by senior members of the squad, and Fitzsimmons has been the beneficiary of some spending by the county board to furnish him with training tools such as GPS tracking devices.

There is a youthful look to the panel with the likes of Niall O'Neil and Brendan Bradley from St Gall's and Declan Lynch of Lamh Dhearg. CJ McGourty is also back, although his long-term involvement has always been slightly unpredictable.

The irrepressible Tony Scullion is back also and Mark Sweeney has been able to commit. They should get off to a positive start.

VERDICT: Antrim

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