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Slaughtneil aiming to kick off their title defence in style

By Declan Bogue

Ulster and Derry champions Slaughtneil put their titles on the line in Owenbeg tomorrow evening (throw-in 7.30pm) when they face Magherafelt in the first round of the Derry Championship.

Magherafelt, under the management of former Tyrone player Adrian Cush, finished second to Slaughtneil in the domestic league, and that was achieved even with the eventual champions changing their manager midway through the campaign.

While Slaughtneil may be without Brendan Rogers through injury, they will still expect to get through this stern test and move on in the defence of their titles.

The other tie of the round in Derry is between near-neighbours Swatragh and Glen (today, Owenbeg, 6pm).

Glen have won quite a number of Ulster Minor and Under-21 Club Championships in recent years and are managed by former county star Enda Gormley. If they can get past this one safely, it could be time for them to make a long-awaited push.

Down champions Kilcoo, meanwhile, will come up against RGU Downpatrick (today, Newcastle, 5.30pm) as they continue their bid for a seventh consecutive Mourne title.

One more win will take them into the last-four.

Burren are likely to join them. They face Castlewellan tomorrow (Pairc Esler, 8pm) and while Castlewellan manager Mark Doran has steadied a listing ship in recent weeks, Burren are expecting big things from themselves this season.

In Antrim, defending champions Lamh Dhearg are down to almost the bare bones as they begin the defence of their crown with a trip to Glenavy to face Aghagallon (tomorrow, throw-in 5.30pm).

County forward Conor Murray is out with a cruciate ligament injury, with another county man, Domhnall Nugent, also on the injury list. Others who are down as walking wounded include Terry McCrudden, Paddy Mervyn, Stephen Tully and Gerard Slane.

A possible shock could be brewing with St Brigid's - riding high at the top of Division 2A - taking on Ahoghill, who are struggling towards the bottom of Division One. That game takes place in Ballymena today with a throw-in time of 1.30pm.

Elsewhere, St Teresa's meet St Joseph's and Portglenone face Rossa.

A real derby is in store in the Fermanagh semi-final between St Joseph's of Ederney and Erne Gaels of Belleek.

St Joseph's had little problem in dismissing last year's Intermediate champions Belcoo in the quarter-final and are targeting a first county final since 2006.

Meanwhile, Erne Gaels needed a replay to get past a struggling Tempo side last weekend.

It's hard to believe, but Crossmaglen have not won the Armagh Championship since 2015 and they are in action against Clann Eireann in the group stages today. Just how well Gareth O'Neill's transition is going with this side remains to be seen.

County champions Armagh Harps face Maghery tomorrow (at Maghery, 6pm) in a repeat of last year's final. A win here for Maghery would guarantee a quarter-final place, so they are really fighting for their lives.

Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan have drawn-out Championships and all are at the group stages this weekend.

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