Carrickmore, Errigal Ciaran and Omagh begin Tyrone title quest
IT'S Carrickmore's time to shine. The league is done and dusted, and for this famous club, championship is the bread and butter.
Tyrone's most successful club desperately wants to add to its record 15 titles, and it all starts at Plunkett Park on Saturday afternoon when they take on Edendork (1.30pm).
Seamus McCallan's side will go into the game as favourites, but an indifferent league campaign has raised doubts over their ability to make a serious challenge for the big prize.
However, a proud championship tradition cannot be ignored, and their famed resilience will kick in at Pomeroy.
Experienced trio Conor Gormley, Mark Donnelly and Martin Penrose are still key members of a team that has been building towards this game for several months.
Johnny Munroe, Ruairi Loughran, Gerry Carlin and Colm McGurk can give Carmen that bit extra in the cut and thrust of knock-out football, and younger players will respond to their promptings.
Edendork will feel they have a genuine chance to cause an upset, and a strong finish to their league campaign will have boosted confidence in the camp.
Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan plays outfield for the St Malachy's, and his place-kicking is an important asset, while Darren McCurry can grab important scores.
Conn Kilpatrick, Stephen Corr, Harry Og Conlan and Niall Maneely are others who add quality to the Edendork side.
They will force their opponents to battle to the very end for the win, but Carrickmore look strong enough to go through to a quarter-final tie against either Errigal Ciaran or Urney, who also meet later on Saturday.
Errigal Ciaran have not won the Tyrone SFC title since 2012, but they feel this could be their year to return to the top.
They begin their 2017 challenge with a Donnelly Vauxhall first round tie against Urney at Loughmacrory (4.30pm), and the men from Dunmoyle go in as overwhelming favourites.
Urney have endured a difficult first campaign back in senior football following their promotion via the play-offs at the end of last season.
Expectations of championship success in their camp are low, as they continue to concentrate on avoiding relegation through the play-offs.
The battle to stay clear of the drop could well preoccupy Urney minds at Ballinamullan, with thoughts torn between league and championship.
In any case, Errigal, with a handful of county players in their side, look too strong for the St Columba's.
Last season, they had the misfortune to meet a strong Killyclogher side early on, but they can be forgiven for feeling that the draw has been more kind this time around.
Peter Harte and Aidan McCrory have had ample time to get over the disappointment of Tyrone's defeat to Dublin, and will lead the charge.
A solid defence in which Ciaran Quinn, Michael McCrory and Cathal McRory perform their roles in disciplined fashion, will be difficult to break down.
Up front, Mark Kavanagh, Davy Harte and Padraig McGirr will look to find gaps in the Urney defence, and along with Peter Harte, they are capable of racking up the scores.
Urney will have to contain Errigal's firepower and play to their own strengths. Fergal McNulty, Johnny Lafferty and Ryan Henry are important figures in their strategy, while Jamie McAleer, Chris Bogle and Ronan Lafferty also have key roles to play.
It's difficult to see anything other than an Errigal Ciaran win, to earn them a quarter-final clash with the winners of Carrickmore's clash with Edendork.
Omagh's bid to win a second title in four years begins at Loughmacrory on the same double bill when they take on Ardboe (6pm).
The St Enda's are among the favourites to win the O'Neill Cup this year, and will approach this opener with confidence.
Ardboe have not won the title since 1998, but they feel they have the quality to match the men from Healy Park.
Omagh are approaching full strength again following a league campaign which saw them forced to field without a number of key players.
Conan Grugan is back to full fitness and will be a useful asset at midfield.
With former Tyrone star Joe McMahon in fine form, along with current county players Ronan O'Neill, Conor Meyler and Justin McMahon, the St Enda's have no shortage of quality.
Conor Clarke and Barry Tierney are others who can make a big contribution to their efforts to book a quarter-final spot.
The lough shore men are always difficult championship opponents, and have been performing well in the league under former Tyrone star Brian McGuigan.
Current Red Hand sensation David Mulgrew gives them something special in attack, and his partnership with Kyle Coney could be the key to their efforts to break down the Omagh defence and strike for scores.
Michael Cassidy, Shay McGuigan, Gavin Teague, Tommy McGuigan and Michael O'Neill also have important roles to play for a Rossas side edging towards a return to the good times.
But they will have to produce a big performance if they are to overcome Paddy Crozier's outfit.