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.