Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher gets an early reunion with Donegal
RORY Gallagher will make an early return to MacCumhaill Park after his Fermanagh side were drawn to travel to his former charges in the final round of Bank of Ireland Dr. McKenna Cup games.
Gallagher stepped down as Donegal boss at the end of last season after three seasons in charge, having first served as Jim McGuinness’s right-hand man for their 2012 All-Ireland triumph.
Having appeared to make progress with a young team during the National League, Donegal endured a difficult championship but it was still something of a surprise when he stepped down.
Weeks later he was appointed as Pete McGrath’s successor in his native Erne county and his tenure will begin with a home tie against Monaghan before they also host Ulster University.
The stand-out game on the opening round of fixtures, which will be played on the earlier-than-usual date of Wednesday 3 January, is the meeting of old foes Down and Armagh in Páirc Esler.
The pair met there in the championship last summer, with Down taking the spoils as they embarked on a run to the Ulster final, though Kieran McGeeney’s side recovered to bypass them and reach an All-Ireland quarter-final.
Antrim have two home games in the group stage, the second of which against St Mary’s will be played on the council-owned Woodlands playing fields in west Belfast.
It was given a £2.1m upgrade last year, £450,000 of which was provided by the GAA, and now boasts three full size GAA pitches, including a floodlit 3G pitch, which will be used for the tie on Wednesday 10 January.
Their other home game against Cavan takes place in Glenavy the previous Sunday, the same afternoon that will see Derry travel to Armagh and Monaghan host Donegal.
The GAA’s move to condense the inter-county calendar has meant the McKenna Cup had to start earlier and is being run off on a shorter timeframe.
The finalists will both have played five games in the space of 17 days during the height of their pre-season training, although there are six days’ rest between the semi-finals and the final, which takes place on January 20.
That will mean an eight-day period until the start of the National League for whoever qualifies, given that none of the Ulster teams are in league action on the opening Saturday night, January 27.
2018 Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup fixtures
Round One - Wednesday, January 3 (8pm)
Tyrone v Antrim (Healy Park), Cavan v St Mary’s (Kingspan Breffni); Down v Armagh (Páirc Esler), Derry v UU (Owenbeg); Donegal v QUB (Pairc MacCumhaill), Fermanagh v Monaghan (Brewster Park)
Round Two – Sunday, January 7 (2pm)
Antrim v Cavan (Glenavy), Tyrone v St Mary’s (Healy Park); Armagh v Derry (Athletic Grounds), Down v UU (Downpatrick); Fermanagh v UU (Brewster Park), Monaghan v Donegal (Clones)
Round Three - Wednesday, January 10 (8pm)
Cavan v Tyrone (Kingspan Breffni), Antrim v St Mary’s (Woodlands, Belfast); Derry v Down (Owenbeg), Armagh v UU (Athletic Grounds); Monaghan v QUB (Castleblayney), Donegal v Fermanagh (Pairc MacCumhaill)
Semi-finals – Sunday 14 January (2pm)
Section C winner v Section A winner
Section B winner v Best runner-up
Final – Saturday, January 20 (8pm)