Compiled by IAN O'RIORDAN
McGRATH CUP SF
Kerry v IT Tralee, Killarney, 2.0.
A fresh start for Kerry, in many ways, including a return to the McGrath Cup, having bypassed the competition last year, and won it in 2011.
No Colm Cooper, Paul Galvin, or Declan O’Sullivan, no Anthony Maher or Aidan O’Mahony, and no new captain, Eoin Brosnan, either. Yet ,despite the rake of absentees, new manager Eamon Fitzmaurice is intent on making the most of this competition and Kerry should have plenty in reserve to get past fellow county students here and set up a quarter-final date with UCC.
O’BYRNE CUP SF
Round One (all games 2.0) Longford v Meath, Ballymahon Mick O’Dowd, Meath’s fifth new manager in seven years, will be looking for a good start , although the new league format of the O’Byrne Cup takes some pressure off, and he fields a mostly new team, which features Joe Sheridan at midfield, and includes four debutants in Caolan Young, Cormac Rowe, Stephen Crosbie and Dalton McDonagh.
Louth v UCD, Drogheda
Aidan O’Rourke, the third member of Armagh’s former All-Ireland winning defence to take up a county manager’s job, is also talking up Louth’s prospects , although they have dropped a long way back from the heights of 2010, and will do well to hold off UCD.
Carlow v Dublin, Carlow
A new dawn for both counties here as Anthony Rainbowhopes to take Carlow another small step forward, while Jim Gavin looks to take Dublin back to the All-Ireland winning heights of 2011. With a sort of head start from the Blue Stars Challenge on New Year’s Day, Dublin will almost certainly rise sufficiently to this challenge.
Wicklow v DCU, Greystones
DCU are defending O’Byrne Cup champions, in fact winning a second title in two years, and are typically in sharp form at this time of year, with the Sigerson Cup looming, while for Wicklow, despite the home advantage, it’s more about testing form and trimming players ahead of an important league campaign.
Offaly v Laois, Tullamore
An old school derby to mark Emmet McDonnell’s first competitive game in charge of Offaly, and he’s named a fairly strong team, which includes both Alan and Niall McNamee. It should be enough to give him a winning start.
Westmeath v AIT, Moate
This game, switched to Hogan Park in Moate, is already being billed as the first appearance in over 18 months for Garrycastle’s Dessie Dolan, who opted out of the county scene last year.
Goalkeeper Gary Connaughton and midfielder David Duffy also return after long injury lay-offs, no doubt giving Westmeath enough to handle the students of Athlone.
Wexford v DIT, Killanerin
Yet another fresh start here as Aidan O’Brien, originally from Westmeath , moves up from the Wexford minor and under-21 ranks to take the senior job, with the bones of a still highly capable panel. DIT will be no pushover, but Wexford will happy to win through.
Kildare v Carlow IT, Newbridge
It’s already been a notable week for Kildare with the news that forward James Kavanagh has retired, aged only 28, but already too 2013 is shaping up to be a definitive year for manager Kieran McGeeney, and his new selectors Damien Hendy and Jason Ryan. It’s a case, surely, of now or never to deliver some silverware, and not just the O’Byrne Cup.
McKENNA CUP SF
Round One (all games 2.0): Monaghan v St Mary’s, Clones
It falls to Malachy O’Rourke to restore some of the momentum in Monaghan lost in recent seasons following Eamonn McEnaney’s exit and a strong Dr McKenna Cup campaign would be as good as start as any.
Cavan v Down, Kingspan Breffni Park
Down manager James McCartan has recognised the need to freshen things up for 2013, bringing in Niall Moyna, formerly of Dublin, and DCU, along with ex- Down star Eamon Burns, and Jerome Johnston, from county champions Kilcoo.
All four of them will be keen for a winning opener here.
UUJ v Antrim, Casement Park
Frank Dawson has been patiently awaiting his chance to take charge of Antrim who still have the potential to rise up and match the best in Ulster but his first task will be getting past the formidable Jordanstown students.
Tyrone v Derry, Healy Park
Never one to rest old faces, Mickey Harte has named debutants for his first game of 2013, including goalkeeper Niall Morgan, defenders Barry Tierney, Ryan McKenna and Danny McBride, as well as attacker Kevin Gallagher, while also returning to action is Seán Cavanagh, named at midfield. Brian McIver takes over the Derry job with some considerable experience but he brings a very young squad to Omagh, including three under-21s, and half a dozen debutants.
CONNACHT FBD SF
Round One: Section A
NUIG v Galway, Pearse Stadium (2.0)
So Alan Mulholland is now without that great servant of Galway football, Pádraig Joyce, although Michael Meehan is ready from the start of the new season, for the first time since 2009, and they’ll most likely see off NUIG here.
Sligo v Sligo IT, Kent Park (1.30)
Now moved to Ballinode, with a 1.30pm start, there are already sweeping changes to the Sligo panel, with Eamonn O’Hara looking as if he’s played his last game, at age 37, and so too the Noel Maguire, Johnny Davey and Colm McGee. David Kelly is out injured for the next four months, but the fresh faces are backed up by the return of midfielder Stephen Gilmartin and forwards Kenneth Sweeney and Brian Curran, so Sligo should still manage to prevail.
Roscommon v Leitrim, Elphin, 2.0
Exactly how John Evans ended up as Roscommon manager is a bit of a mystery, given he exited Tipperary on very much a down note, but he’s been handed the task of reviving Roscommon who have enjoyed underage success. He can start on a winning note here.
McGRATH CUP SF
Preliminary Round: Clare v LIT, Miltown Malbay, (2.0)
Only God knows what exactly has lured Mick O’Dwyer back into management, aged 76, and 38 years after his first job, for what is his fifth county assignment, and sixth in all, but whatever fresh enthusiasm he will inject is likely to guide Clare to victory here.
Cork v CIT, Cork IT (2.0)
Another local county-college clash, which sees Cork manager Conor Counihan give a first start to Damien Cahalane, son of former county All-Ireland winning defender Niall ( Counihan’s former team-mates) while otherwise there are just four survivors from Cork’s last championship game, in the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Donegal, with only Michael Shields, Paul Kerrigan, Colm O’Neill and Alan O’Connor named to start here.