Friday night lights as McKenna Cup gets county season under way
IT will be a case of Friday night lights when the 2022 Dr McKenna Cup gets under way on January 7.
Ulster GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee (CCC) last night signed off on a schedule that will see the pre-season inter-county competition run off inside 15 days at the start of the new year.
The CCC opted to stick with the three group format, with three counties in each. The draw will take place within the next week, but the first round of games have been set for the evening of Friday, January 7.
The second round of games are on Tuesday, January 11 with the final group games on Saturday, January 15.
The McKenna Cup semi-finals will take place on Tuesday, January 18, with the final on Saturday, January 22. That will lead counties into the National Football League, which gets under way the following weekend.
Reigning All-Ireland champions Tyrone were the last county to get their hands on the McKenna Cup at the start of 2020, defeating Monaghan to claim the trophy for the 17th time. The competition fell victim to the pandemic at the start of this year.
Following the advent of the split season, many predicted the traditional pre-season competitions could have run their course, with the Fixtures Task Force Calendar Review Committee previously calling for the abolition of the McKenna, O'Byrne and McGrath Cups, along with the Connacht League, to allow a considerable closed season for inter-county players.
Hurling's Walsh and Kehoe Cups and Munster Hurling League were also to be culled. However, last month the GAA's Central Council gave the green light for them to retain their place in the calendar.
Counties were initially due to resume training on December 15, but that was brought forward to December 8, with challenge games permitted from January 1, 2022.
It soon became clear that most counties preferred to reignite the pre-season competitions rather than seeking out challenge games, while the January 7 start date for the McKenna Cup allows counties a month's preparation ahead of a return to action.