McKenna Cup problems? Big Joe to rescue
Armagh's All-Ireland winning manager Joe Kernan will act as mediator in the event of any player disputes, it was revealed at last night's launch of the 2014 Dr McKenna Cup at Belfast's Wellington Park Hotel.
The current Crossmaglen Rangers and Ulster Inter-provincial manager is a highly-respected figure in football in the province and his involvement is expected to smooth some of the more contentious issues surrounding player eligibility in recent years.
Last December, Queen's University confirmed they would not be taking part in the 2013 competition after several of their players had also been named on their respective county panels.
In order to find a resolution to this impasse, the Ulster Council established a working group headed up by presidential hopeful Aoghan Farrell. They reported back to the council last week at a Competitions Control Committee meeting and resolved to take a firmer stance on the rule that maintain colleges as having first preference on players.
In the event of a dispute, Kernan (pictured) will then be asked to mediate.
The development was welcomed at the launch by head of Queen's GAA, Aidan O'Rourke, who said: "I welcome Joe's appointment, he has vast experience and he is very well-connected with all county managers. It will suit him well, he has experience from the other side of the fence in the McKenna Cup so we are very happy."
On making a return to the competition, O'Rourke explained the universities' decision last year, stating: "We never wanted to be out of the competition to be honest, but the conditions have to be there for the spirit of the competition to remain.
"We took the decision we did because we felt we couldn't be competitive and it was no preparation for the Sigerson Cup competition. We felt it was our priority and we made it our call last year.
"We are hopeful that the process of mediation as outlined this year will allay any fears we have as regards that and give us our better players."
Reigning champions Tyrone have been paired with Donegal, Queen's and Armagh in Group A, getting the tournament under way with an away tie to Donegal, with all first round games taking place on Sunday, January 5.
Liam Bradley, back in charge of Antrim after a one-year break, will be able to cast his eye over his charges in clashes against Cavan, Down and University Ulster Jordanstown as he begins his second spell in charge of the Saffrons.
New Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath has been handed what many will regard as a kind draw in hosting the students of St Mary's for his first game in charge of the Ernesiders. 'The Ranch' will visit Brewster Park on January 5.
All second-round games will be played on January 12, with the concluding round on Wednesday, January 15.
The semi-finals will comprise of a pairing between the winners of groups B and A, while the best runner-up will face the winners of Group C on Sunday, January 19.
The final will be played on Saturday, January 25.
GROUP A: Queen's, Donegal, Tyrone, Armagh.
GROUP B: St Mary's, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Derry.
GROUP C: University Ulster Jordanstown, Down, Antrim, Cavan.