Most of the results in the opening round of the McKenna Cup were along expected lines with the exception being, UUJ’s surprise win over the Ulster champions, Donegal. UUJ were inspired by St Galls and Antrim star, CJ McCourty who was in fine form for the students. McCourty kicked four points which along with a treble from Ciaran Clarke were enough for UUJ to eke out a 0-11 to 0-9 victory. Donegal, who fielded without most of their star names, had Dermot Molloy to thank for 5 points while teenage substitute, Paddy McBrearty added a brace after his introduction.
After losing heavily to Armagh in last year’s Ulster championship, Down gained some measure of revenge when they had a comfortable 2-12 to 0-10 victory in Newry. Both sides used the tie as an opportunity to experiment and it was the Mourne men who proved they had more strength in depth as goals from Ryan Brady and substitute Conor Laverty helped Down get their campaign off to a winning start. Returning veteran, Liam Doyle chipped in with two points from wing-back while newcomer, Marcus Miskelly enjoyed his day out with three points for James McCartan’s men. For Armagh, Micheál O’Rourke top scored with 0-3 points while former Mayo star, Billy-Joe Padden added two.
The Peter Canavan era got off to a flying start in Fermanagh as they scored a 2-11 to 1-6 win over Antrim at Brewster Park. The star of the show for the Erne men was full-forward Seamus Quigley who bagged 1-8 in a man of the match performance. The other Fermanagh goal came from corner-forward, Paul Ward with Antrim’s response coming from midfielder, Sean Kelly. Antrim were dealt a blow when substitute, Michael McCann was sent off after picking up a second yellow card. On what was a great day for Fermanagh, star players such as Niall Bogue, Barry Owens and Ryan McCluskey all started the game while Mark Little and Eamonn Maguire appeared as substitutes.
Tyrone came with a late rally as their experimental team eventually got the better of the stubborn students of Queens on a scoreline of 1-13 to 1-5 in Omagh. This game may well have heralded the introduction of the next major star in Tyrone football with second half substitute, Ronan O’Neill bagging a goal with his very first touch in senior inter-county football. The goal proved the beginning of a swashbuckling finish from Mickey Harte’s men as further points from Colm Cavanagh, Peter Harte and Aidan Cassidy helped them hold off the challenge of Queens. For Queens, Caolan Rafferty scored their goal with Donal O’Hare notching a brace of points.
There was a similar pattern to the game in Clones where Monaghan finished very strongly to see off the challenge of St Mary’s college. The Farney men led by 0-4 to 0-3 at the break after they scored two late points to overtake St Mary’s who started the game very well. During the second half, Eamonn McEneaney moved Paul Finlay to full-forward and he scored three second half points to help Monaghan to an eight point victory.
In the final game, 14 man Derry had substitute, Niall Holly to thank for a late winner in their game over Cavan at Celtic Park. Cavan looked as if they were going to hang on for an unlikely victory when they led by two points with only three minutes to go. However, the Oak leaf men enjoyed a storming finish to the game and points from Conleth Gilligan, Mark Lynch and Holly gave the victory to Derry. Derry had played the last 20 minutes with only 14 men after Eugene Scullion was sent for after picking up a second yellow card. For an impressive new-look Cavan side, Niall McDermott top scored with 4 points while there were also valuable contributions from Ray Galligan and David Givney.