The McKenna Cup continues this weekend and after last weekend’s exciting action, all Ulster Gaelic Football supporters will be hoping for more of the same this weekend when Round 2 takes place. This is the round where those teams from Round 1 have an opportunity to confirm Quarter-final places while those who lost their opening rounds have a chance to make amends.
Antrim v Tyrone
Antrim will have been extremely disappointed with their level of performance in their opening round defeat when they were beaten by Fermanagh on a scoreline of 2-16 to 1-11. It doesn’t get an easier this weekend as the Saffron’s host Mickey Harte’s Tyrone at home in Casement Park. The good news for Antrim supporters is that at least they will be back in their traditional saffron jerseys for this clash after being forced to wear black last weekend because their new jersey’s were not ready.
However, they will need more than a jersey change if they are to get the better of Tyrone. Tyrone manager, Mickey Harte has always taken this competition quite seriously and this year it is probably more important than ever as he rebuilds his team after some high profile retirements. They still miss Sean Cavanagh who is out injured but some of the younger players who featured last weekend such as Ronan O’Neill will get another chance to impress in this encounter that Tyrone should win.
Fermanagh v Queens
The Peter Canavan era could not have got off to a better start as the Erne men put Antrim to the sword in Brewster Park. This Sunday they are back at the same venue again as they take on a Queens side who were beaten by Tyrone last time out. The star of the show for Fermanagh last weekend was full-forward Seamus Quigley who will probably benefit most from the coaching of the legendary Tyrone man.
Canavan’s comments after the game indicate that he will be keeping his player’s feet firmly on the ground and he will not be letting them get carried away with last week’s victory. It is just as well as they will not have it all their own way against what is bound to be a stubborn Queens outfit who will have Burren star, Donal O’Hare leading their attack. To a large extent, last Sunday’s victory for Fermanagh can be attributed to Canavan fever gripping the county but it will be more difficult this weekend. However, they should still win!
Monaghan v Down
One of the most eagerly awaited games is down for decision in Clones on Sunday where two sides who were victorious last Sunday meet. Monaghan had a new look side on display in their opening round win over St Mary’s but it was one of the old stagers, Paul Finlay who came to the fore in the final quarter to seal victory over St Marys.
They remain without Conor McManus whose return from injury is about two months away and they continue to be without emigrated star, Tommy Freeman. Down supporters will really have enjoyed their eight point victory over arch-rivals Armagh last weekend and will be in buoyant form when they go to Clones on Sunday. Veteran defender, Liam Doyle playing his first game after a three year injury lay off enjoyed his return, scoring two points from centre-back. Benny Coulter came on as a second half substitute as James McCartan begins to line up his star players for the year ahead. I expect Down to prevail in this game.
Armagh v St Marys
The two sides that were both beaten in the opening round of Group B come together in the Morgan Athletic Grounds on Sunday where Armagh and St Marys meet. St Marys did match Monaghan for long periods in Clones last Sunday but faded badly in the third quarter when the class of their inter-county rivals told. They will be up against it again this Sunday and will need goalkeeper Niall Morgan to be in the same kind of form that he was in last Sunday if they are to have any chance.
Last Sunday, Morgan made a succession of fine saves and also chipped in with two points of his own a la Stephen Cluxton. Armagh themselves are bound to have a reaction to their eight point defeat to Down last week and although they are still without the Crossmaglen contingent, they should still win this game, and with a bit to spare.
University of Ulster Jordanstown v Derry
There is another intriguing tie down for decision in Celtic Park on Saturday evening when Derry and UUJ meet. Both of these teams came out victorious in their respective opening round games and they will know that whoever wins on Saturday is guaranteed to make it to the quarter-finals.
Derry were made to work all the way by a new look Cavan side and came away with a one point victory. That game was supposed to mark the return to the Derry line-up of cruciate injury victim, Paddy Bradley but he never made an appearance. Bradley has decided to delay his return until the commencement of the National league on the advice of renowned surgeon, Ray Moran. Derry are also still without Bradley’s younger brother, Eoin who will miss the entire National league after also suffering a cruciate injury.
UUJ surprised a lot of people with their two point win over Ulster champions, Donegal last week and will be expected to really put it up to Derry this weekend. The star of the show last day out was Antrim’s CJ McCourty and UUJ will need him to shoot the lights out if they are to get a result in this game.
Cavan v Donegal
The final game of the weekend takes place at Kingspan Breffni Park where Cavan, narrow losers to Derry last weekend take on a Donegal side who were surprisingly beaten by UUJ last weekend. With quarter-final places up for grabs, both sides will be anxious to return to winning ways. Cavan are still missing Seanie Johnston who is currently abroad.
Manager, Terry Hyland expressed his disappointment with the number of wides (fifteen) his team kicked against Derry but he was encouraged by the amount of possession his side won, albeit with an extra man for a period of the game. Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness is already looking forward to the Ulster Championship in May where his side will also face Cavan and with that in mind, it is unlikely that either manager will be particularly anxious to show his full hand at this stage.
However, the Ulster champions should have enough in the tank to see off what will be a stern challenge from the new look home side.