Paul Bealin begins Westmeath reign with home clash against Dublin

Visitors in experimental mode for clash in Mullingar

New Westmeath manager Paul Bealin. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

New Westmeath manager Paul Bealin. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho



O’Byrne Cup SF Round 1 -

“No, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be welcoming Dublin to Mullingar,” says Paul Bealin, and justifiably so. The 1995 All-Ireland winner with Dublin was certainly a surprise choice to replace Pat Flanagan, who failed to get another season with Westmeath despite guiding them to division one of the Allianz Football League, and Bealin also now marks his first competitive outing in charge against his former Dublin All-Ireland winning team mate Jim Gavin.

It’s also the pick of tomorrow’s opening round of games of the O’Byrne Cup, even though the action itself gets underway this evening when Louth host DCU under the floodlights at Haggardstown (7.30). What is certain too is that while Dublin and Westmeath are at opposite ends of the football spectrum, tomorrow’s game in Mullingar (2.0) will provide some useful pointers towards more current form, or indeed lack of it.

Gavin has already given several of his All-Ireland winners a nice run out on New Year’s Eve with a convincing win in the Dubs Stars challenge, but he’ll be going more experiment for this: Bernard Brogan, James McCarthy, Paddy Andrews and Dean Rock will sit out January, while eight panellists will be lining out with their colleges. Bealin is also without as many players due to college commitments, and while Denis Glennon is also out injured, Dessie Dolan is likely to feature.

Defending O’Byrne Cup champions Kildare (remember their extra-time win over Dublin last year?) open up with a home tie against Athlone IT (Newbridge, 2.0) and again new manager Jason Ryan will be forced to use mostly fringe players, with his current list of absent names including Eamonn Callaghan, Eoin Doyle, Niall Kelly, Peter Kelly, Alan Smith, Keith Cribbin and Jonathan Byrne.

Meath host DIT (Pairc Tailteann 2.0) and manager Mick O’Dowd has named a reasonably strong team that includes forwards Eamon Wallace and Mickey Newman, with Conor Gillespie captaining the team from midfield. Elsewhere, Wexford host Laois (New Ross, 2.0), Offaly host UCD (O’Connor Park, 2.0) Carlow host Longford (Carlow, 2.0), and Wicklow host IT Carlow (Ashford, 2.0).

McGrath Cup SF quarter-finals -

The unfortunate boycotting of this year’s competition by Clare, Limerick, Waterford and Tipperary - in protest of the Munster Council’s decision to revert to a seeded football championship - effectively reduces this competition to a shoot-out between Kerry and Cork, presuming they aren’t taken out by one of the college teams along the way.

Kerry, lest anyone forget, are defending champions, and manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice has included six players that featured in last September’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin for tomorrow’s quarter-final against Tralee IT (Tralee, 2.0), including Mark Griffin and Shane Enright, midfielder Anthony Maher, forward Donnchadh Walsh, and subs Jack Sherwood and David Moran. With 2014 captain Colm Cooper focused on club duty with Dr Crokes, Walsh will captain the team.

Cork IT also host Mary Immaculate (Cork IT, 2.0), UL host UCC (Gaelic Grounds, 2.30), while new Cork manager Brian Cuthbert makes his first competitive outing in Mallow against Limerick IT (2.0). Cuthbert has blended lots of new faces with some familiar ones, with the likes of Eoin Cadogan, James LoughreyAidan Walsh and Daniel Goulding lining out alongside newcomers such as Alan Sheehan, John McLoughlin, Noel Galvin and the O’Driscoll brothers, Kevin and Colm.

McKenna Cup Round 1 -

Section A - It might lack the cut and thrust of their 2013 championship encounter and yet there is something freshly appetising about Donegal hosting Tyrone tomorrow afternoon (Letterkenny, 2.0). For Tyrone manager Mickey Harte it at least affords him the chance to welcome back goalkeeper Niall Morgan for his first start since injury cut short his season last season, while there are also first ever starts for the likes of midfielder Plunkett Kane and forwards Shay McGuigan and Emmett McKenna. Armagh also host Queen’s (Athletic Grounds, 2.0) in Section A.

In Section B, Monaghan host Derry (Clones, 2.0), and will feature eight of the players that helped Monaghan to the Ulster title last summer: Rory Beggan, Kieran Duffy, Dessie Mone, Kieran Hughes, Dermot Malone, Jack McCarron, Christopher McGuinness and Paul Finlay. There are also first starts for Jonathan McGuigan, Paudie McKenna, Shane Carey and Daniel McKenna. Fermanagh also host St Mary’s (Brewster Park, 2.0) in Section B;

In Section C, Antrim host Cavan (Creggan, 2.0), and the Cavan manager Terry Hyland has certainly gone for something different, recalling Niall Smith and Micheal Lyng after a long absence, while Declan McKiernan also returns from injury to partner Packie Leddy at midfield. Down also host UUJ (Páirc Esler, 2.0) in Section C.

Connacht FBD SF League Round 1 -

Once again it may require some reminding that Leitrim are reigning FBD League champions, beating Sligo in last year’s final, after recording other encouraging wins over the likes of Mayo. They begin the defence of that title at home to GMIT (Cloone, 2.0).

Roscommon also host Sligo IT (Elphin, 2.0), while Galway are at home Sligo (Tuam Stadium, 2.0) in a game that could mark a return to action for Galway’s Gareth Bradshaw, who opted out of the panel last summer following heavy defeat to Mayo in the Connacht championship, but has now returned to training.