O'Fiaich Cup's return ensures busy winter period
December may be designated as part of what is euphemistically referred to as the close season in GAA, yet the revival of a once-flourishing competition now casts further doubt on any credible termination of on-field action.
With the Ulster club junior and intermediate finals scheduled for the Athletic Grounds, Armagh on Saturday and the senior decider between Ballinderry and Glenswilly fixed for Healy Park, Omagh the following day, there is already a generous ration of mid-winter action in the offing.
Now, the O'Fiaich Cup inter-county competition is to be resurrected with fixtures drawn up which will span the first fortnight in December.
The Armagh county board will oversee the competition in which Louth, Down, Derry and Armagh will participate.
The O'Fiaich Cup was initially launched by the Crossmaglen Rangers club to commemorate the memory of the late Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich who hailed from the area.
And while Oliver Plunkett Park, Crossmaglen will host some of the matches, the bulk of the fixtures will be played at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh.
"The county board is hosting the competition and obviously there is a feeling that it will create interest," says Crossmaglen Rangers secretary Gerard Rushe.
"The fact that there are floodlights at the Athletic Grounds makes it an automatic choice of venue especially at this time of year but we in Crossmaglen are glad to be staging some of the Sunday afternoon fixtures. This is a competition which is obviously close to our hearts and we will certainly be playing our part in trying to make it successful from every perspective."
Derry PRO Dermot McPeake is among those who believe that the tournament will provide an outlet for young, emerging players to stake their claim for places in county squads.
"Obviously managers will have an early opportunity to run their eye over talent prior to the McKenna Cup and in this connection the O'Fiaich Cup will probably serve a very useful purpose," says McPeake.
"Most county bosses are finalising their panels right now and getting the chance to observe players in competitive matches is always a benefit."
On Thursday week (December 5) Armagh will host near neighbours Down at the Athletic Grounds while on the following night Louth and Derry will go head to head at the same venue.
Louth are managed by former Armagh All-Ireland winner Aidan O'Rourke, who is currently restructuring his squad for the 2014 campaign while Derry boss Brian McIver will avail of the opportunity to assess some of his under 21 starlets.
On Sunday week, there will be a double bill at Crossmaglen where Armagh will face Louth and Down will be in action against Derry. The final will be played at the Athletic Grounds on December 15.
Fixtures: Thursday, December 5: Armagh v Down (Athletic Grounds), Friday, December 6: Derry v Louth (Athletic Grounds). Sunday, December 8: Armagh v Louth, Down v Derry (both to be played at Crossmaglen), Wednesday, December 9: Armagh v Derry (Athletic Grounds), Friday, December 10: Down v Louth (Athletic Grounds).
Sunday, December 15: The Final (Crossmaglen).