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McKenna Cup offers fringe benefits to counties

By Joe Kernan

Right now there are a number of players preparing to participate in the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup competition who are totally unknown outside the confines of their own clubs.

Yet by the end of January it is very likely that at least some of these players will have created a deep impression on their managers and supporters.

And this is surely one of the great benefits of the January competition.

Quite a number of teams, in particular Tyrone and Armagh, will field new-look sides because of the unavailability of more seasoned players for a variety of reasons.

New Fermanagh manager Peter Canavan and Antrim boss Liam Bradley too will assess players who have yet to cut their teeth in the inter-county sphere while Down boss James McCartan, with gaps to plug in his side, will join them in invoking a spirit of adventure for the competition.

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness will have to find replacements for Kevin Cassidy and Michael Hegarty while Monaghan supremo Eamon McEnaney will be without a number of players who are involved with their universities while others such as Conor McManus are injured.

Indeed, given the diluted strength of some of the county teams, there is the possibility that the three third-level education teams - Queen's, UUJ and St Mary's - could make a big impact in the competition.

James McCartan steered Queen's into the final a couple of years ago when they fell to Donegal but they still boast a number of outstanding players and they could well prove a force next month.

Ulster Council officials are suggesting that there will be good attendances at matches and I would concur with that.

Ironically, fans have been starved of action in what has been the mildest period of weather for some time.

Hopefully, the elements will remain favourable in January and allow the McKenna Cup competition to be completed without any hitches which certainly was not the case last year when the snow played havoc with fixtures.

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