BoI Dr McKenna Cup – Early Dress Rehersal
The opening Section C match in the Bank of Ireland sponsored Dr McKenna Cup at Kingspan Breffni Park at 2pm on Sunday December 29 between Cavan and Armagh is an early dress rehearsal for their upcoming Allianz National Football League opener on January 25.
Cavan will be delighted to welcome Armagh to Kingspan Breffni which has recently become the first GAA stadium outside of Croke Park to be awarded European Healthy Stadia status which is a huge boost for their County Ground.
With a new look McKenna Cup (no collage teams) trialing the new playing rules, the early start to what is probably the most important National League ever league, rival managers Kieran McGeeney and Mickey Graham will both be very keen to hit the ground running and looking for that psychological advantage ahead of their league meeting.
It took a replay won by Cavan 0-23 to 0-17 following a 0-17 to 1-14 to decide the outcome of the Ulster semi-final with Armagh on June 8 so once again although both sides could be sporting some new faces there is expected to be little between the teams.
Both management teams will face at least one defensive change each from their last meeting due to retirements Cavan will be without 26-year-old former Breffni captain Killian Clarke (a point scorer the last time against Armagh) after the defender decided to take a break from inter-county football having been part of the county set-up for the last nine years.
After 14 years of dedicated service to the Armagh cause Charlie Vernon who lined out at full-back in Clones on June 9 against the Breffni men has hung up his boots owing nothing to the cause he cherished and gave his all. Charlie is the only man missing from the Armagh set up with manager McGeeney adding a half dozen fresh faces to his squad and has a fit again Oisin O Neill ready for early action. Hopefully an injury free Oisin will make as big an impact as brother Rian and midfielder Jarly Og Burns did, with both young additions to the squad having an excellent debut year.
3 TEAM GROUP
Armagh and Cavan are part of a 3 team Section C along with defending McKenna Cup champions Tyrone who have won 7 of the last eight McKenna Cup titles. Tyrone manager Mickey Harte says he will aim to have his team match-ready for their Dr McKenna Cup group matches against Armagh and Cavan and believes ‘If you’re not ready for the McKenna Cup, you won’t be for the league either’
Even though this McKenna Cup has an earlier than usual start rival managers Mickey Graham and Kieran McGeeney will be harboring the exact same thoughts as Harte and looking forward to the challenges they face in what is, on paper, probably the toughest of the three Sections in the competition.
The Breffni men will travel to Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday Jan 5 at 2pm with the last match in Section C takes Tyrone to the Athletic Grounds on Wednesday Jan 8 for an 8 pm start against Armagh.
Section A houses Donegal, Monaghan and Derry with Section B made up by Down, Antrim and Fermanagh. Armagh interest will focus on how Fermanagh perform under new manager Ryan McMenamin who has taken over from Rory Gallagher whom he was assistant to during his 2 years in charge. Fermanagh are in League Division Two with Armagh and Cavan with Westmeath, Clare, Roscommon, Laois and Kildare completing the Allianz League Division
The Semi-final line up to be played on Sunday Jan 12 will be as follows;
Section C Winners v Section B Winners
Section A Winners v Best Runner-up
In this landmark year of more change for the GAA the adage of Tosach Maith Leath na Hoibre was never more relevant in the context of what lies ahead immediately following the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Competition.