The Dr McKenna Cup reaches the semi final stages today with a double header at the Morgan Athletic grounds in Armagh as Down face Derry and Tyrone and Fermanagh doing battle for the second time in 5 days.
With attendances up 40% on 2011 this years event is proving very popular for the Ulster GAA, the figures no doubt helped by the 7,000 that paid in midweek to see Peter Canavan’s reunion with his old team mates at Tyrone.
Despite Fermanagh losing that game Canavans side get another bite of the cherry after they finished as best runner up in Section A, their prize, another showdown against Mickey Harte’s side.
First up however is Down’s clash with Derry at 2pm. After wins over Armagh and Monaghan Down were surprisingly held by the Students of St Mary’s midweek, James McCartan’s decision to rest a number of key men almost back firing. Kalum King’s goal in the 1-05 to 0-08 point draw was his third in two games however despite King’s impressive form McCartan will have been more disappointed with his side’s finishing overall as they racked up 19 wides.
McCartan described that performance as “Putrid” and will be hoping his side can rediscover the form and while taismatic captain Benny Coulter is more focused on retaining the Ulster title a win over Derry and with it a Dr McKenna cup final appearance would send out the right message to the rest of the footballing world.
However they face a Derry side that reached the knockout stages after beating Ulster Champions Donegal by 2 points midweek. The results made all the more pleasing as the side contained 8 new faces from the one that beat UUJ the Sunday before. John Brennan will have been pleased with the performance of Conleth Gilligan who scored 1-03 in Ballybofey.
An intriguing is sure to unfold today with Down favourites to seal a place against overall favourites Tyrone.
Harte’s side are 9/4 to win the tournament outright although if Sean and Seamus Quigley can reproduce their second half form for Fermanaghan than Canavan’s side could cause an upset. The brothers were in inspried form in the second 35 as they helped Fermanangh come from nine points down although ultimately it wasn’t enough as Tyrone won out by three points.
The sending off of Ryan McCluskey ended any hopes of a comeback on Wednesday and if Fermanagh can keep their discipline and composure then they could cause an upset in the neutrel surroundings of Armagh.
While he won’t be available for this game Fermanagh received a boost ahead of the game with the news that Shane McCabe could be back in their squad for the Championship.