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Early McKenna Cup set to provide pointers

 

Under orders: Fermanagh boss Rory Gallagher will this weekend start to lay the foundations for the season ahead
Under orders: Fermanagh boss Rory Gallagher will this weekend start to lay the foundations for the season ahead
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Hard to believe, but the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup gets under way this weekend, the Ulster Council having learned some harsh lessons from a harsh winter that made pitches unplayable in January and a final that wasn't hosted until the middle of February.

The unlikely surroundings of Derrygonnelly and Crossmaglen is where the 2019 inter-county season gets going.

Fermanagh are taking on the students of University Ulster Jordanstown in Derrygonnelly today, with the game throwing in at 1pm. Rory Gallagher will have to make do without veterans Ryan McCluskey and Eamon Maguire who have retired, while the future of Pat Cadden and Seamus Quigley is still unclear at this point, but neither man appears likely to return for the upcoming season.

Gallagher does welcome back Enniskillen Gaels midfielder Richie O'Callaghan however, who last played in the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Dublin in 2015 before going away for an extended period of travelling. Belcoo's Ciaran Flaherty also returns to the fold.

The attendance at Crossmaglen could be swollen by the inclusion of local hero Jamie Clarke, who is back for another bash at inter-county football, having pitched in with New York for 2018.

Manager Kieran McGeeney also welcomes back the returning Stefan Campbell, while Rian O'Neill is available for the short term, subject to the continuing speculation around interest expressed by Australian Rules teams.

Three current Armagh seniors are in the St Mary's team, who will be managed by Gavin McGilly in the absence of Paddy Tally, who is now the Down manager. Jarlath Óg Burns, Oisin O'Neill and Aaron Boyle will all be hoping to show McGeeney what they are capable of.

There are two games in the Conor McGurk Cup.

University of Ulster Jordanstown face Armagh at home this afternoon, the ball being thrown in at 2pm.

Competition hosts Queen's University get things up and running today when they face Down at the Dub playing fields, with a 1.30pm start.

The St Paul's Ulster Minor tournament has one game this weekend.

Bellaghy, who defeated Antrim's Dunloy last weekend, are back out for the quarter-final meeting with Monaghan's Inniskeen tomorrow at the St Paul's Shaw's Road complex, with a 1pm throw-in.

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