Cup ties will be just the ticket
The Ulster Council is determined to see an improvement on the overall attendance of 60,000 for last season's Dr McKenna Cup when this year's series commences on January 8.
The recession of course is still biting but Council officials are preparing to pull out all the stops to ensure that the profile of the competition is further enhanced.
Head of Public Affairs Ryan Feeney believes that the bigger than anticipated crowds at the recent Ulster Club Championship matches will provide the impetus for the success of the annual January tournament.
"Our attendances for the Ulster club games showed a big increase and now we want to carry this trend over into the McKenna Cup. The club final drew almost 9,000 people and that's more than you would get at many inter-county games in other parts of the country," points out Feeney.
With Peter Canavan making his debut as Fermanagh manager, Derry fixing their sights on retaining the trophy and Mickey Harte about to unveil a new-look Tyrone outfit, there will be no lack of spice to the competition.
"We got very encouraging feedback from fans at the Ulster club games and we have made what we feel are improvements to what we are offering," adds Feeney.
The Council's decision to issue a 'season ticket' for the competition that offers admission to five matches for just £20 is already proving a winner.
"We are absolutely delighted with the take-up on this offer, it's most encouraging," says Feeney.
"This reflects a saving of some 60% on overall admission charges for any fan. Hopefully we will get some decent weather - if we do, then I think the competition will be the best we have had for some time."
With Power NI coming on board as sponsor for the first time, the Ulster Council has scored a significant coup in what is a demanding economic climate.
"We are delighted to have a new sponsor and we will have other innovations to the competition with the final being made a real gala affair," adds Feeney.
Most Ulster team managers will avail of the competition to assess fresh talent while the three university sides - UUJ, Queen's and St Mary's - will be bidding to discover their strongest line-ups in preparation for the forthcoming Sigerson Cup competition.
Meanwhile, Kevin Cassidy has hit back at his former Donegal team-mate and captain Michael Murphy. In backing manager Jim McGuinness' decision to drop the two-time All Star defender from his squad for comments he made in Declan Bogue's book, 'This Is Our Year', Murphy said last week: "Kevin stepped out of line and that was agreed by everyone."
But Cassidy has now stressed that he has drawn a line in the sand in relation to what happened.
"In life the opinions you express should be your own and you shouldn't be influenced by others. As far as I am concerned, it's all over. It's about time everybody just moved on. I've left the whole thing behind me," said Cassidy.
Power NI Dr McKenna Cup: Sunday January 8: Round One: Section A: Fermanagh v Antrim (Brewster Park, Enniskillen), Queen's v Tyrone (Healy Park, Omagh). Section B: St Mary's v Monaghan (Clones), Down v Armagh (Pairc Esler, Newry). Section C: Derry v Cavan (Celtic Park), Donegal v UUJ (MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey).
Sunday January 15: Round Two: Section A: Antrim v Tyrone (Casement Park), Fermanagh v Queen's (Brewster Park). Section B: Monaghan v Down (Clones), Armagh v St Mary's (Morgan Athletic Grounds). Section C: Cavan v Donegal (Kingspan Breffni Park), Derry v UUJ (Celtic Park).
Wednesday January 18: Round Three: Section A: Tyrone v Fermanagh (Healy park, Omagh), Antrim v Queen's (Casement Park). Section B: Armagh v Monaghan (Morgan Athletic Grounds), Down v St Mary's (Pairc Esler). Section C: UUJ v Cavan (Kingspan Breffni Park), Donegal v Derry (MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey).
Saturday/Sunday January 21/22: Semi-finals: Winners of B v Winners of C; Best runner-up v Winners of A.
Saturday January 28: Final.