DERRY GAA: Claudy back in top flight as Dungiven start with Loup
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Lavey v Slaughtneil
These teams will meet in the first round of the Championship in August and this will be an early opportunity for the respective managers, Jude Donnelly and Mickey Moran, to get a look at the opposition.
That said, they are located close enough to each other to have no guarded secrets.
Lavey have been a top half of the table team in the last few years and have usually made an impact in the championship. Their early season form has always been good but they could not have got a stiffer opening round.
Slaughtneil did what they had to do in the league last year despite a spate of injuries and a hangover from their All Ireland final defeat the previous season. It is easy to forget that they retained their county title last year even without injured key players Gerald Bradley and Paudie McGuigan. Both are likely to see action later in the year which will be a major boost for the Emmets.
Slaughtneil are forever consistent and should start with a win though it could be a close game.
VERDICT: Slaughtneil to start with win
Magherafelt v Ballinascreen
Liam Donnelly, a noted coach from Trillick, Co. Tyrone, will have his first taste of Derry club football when he takes his Ballinascreen side on the short trip to Magherafelt.
The St. Colm’s have promised a lot in recent years but have never finished the journey. However, Magherafelt are somewhat similar.
They have a lot of good players who have yet to fully gel. They have a lot of flair and skill but if they are to be serious challengers they need to tighten up at the back. The likes of Shane Heavron, Conor Kearns, Peter Quinn and Ryan Ferris have all been involved with Damian Barton’s county panel through the McKenna Cup and League campaigns while Danny Heavron and Emmett McGuckin are established senior intercounty players so this could be the year to start fulfilling that potential.
Ballinascreen are the opposite to the Rossas, they need to improve in the scoring stakes.
There looks to be little between these two possible heavyweights but home advantage will perhaps see the Rossas through.
It looks to be a game that could produce a thriller.
VERDICT: Magherafelt after a close game.
Dungiven v Loup
Two new managers line up in this clash.
Loup travel with former star man, Johnny McBride, at the helm while the St. Canice’s have former Armagh minor team manager and ex-Doire Colmcille player Brendan Hughes as their new boss.
In the past, there has been little between these teams but if early season form is anything to go by, then Loup look the most likely to succeed.
Dungiven bowed out of the Dr. Kerlin Cup to Second Division Steelstown but they did not have a strong team on duty.
Loup have been easing through the gears and could be one to watch out for this season. They are not particularly physical but they have speed and team work in abundance. Anthony O’Neill is back to his best after a couple of injury-plagued years and, along with Aidan McAlynn, Thomas Mallon and Terence O’Brien, provides a strong backbone.
Dungiven may miss the injured Mark Craig while star man Kevin Johnston may not yet be ready after his knee surgery. Loup look to have the advantage but Dungiven are one of those teams that never know when they are beaten.
VERDICT: Pre-season says Loup.
Coleraine v Claudy
When these teams met recently in the Dr Kerlin Cup, Claudy won pulling up.
This time, however, they will face a much stronger Coleraine team who are likely to have their seven county panellists back on duty.
Claudy did well to get promoted at the end of last season and their aim will be to solidify their senior status. They are fast and skilful with Eoin and Shane McGahon providing the power in the midfield diamond.
Last year, Coleraine finished in the lower half of the league but reached the championship final. With so many players in the county panel they may be looking to the championship again but will be anxious to get early points on the board.
The physical strength and experience of Sean McGoldrick’s crew should see them take both points but they must keep a watchful eye on Claudy talisman Aaron Kerrigan.
Claudy will be anxious to lay down an early marker and have the pace to cause some early season surprises but this a tough ask against an experienced team.
VERDICT: Coleraine to shade it.
Newbridge v Swatragh
Swatragh are a team that look set to improve on last year given the number of good young players they have coming through.
They travel to Newbridge under a new manager and will be slightly fancied to bring home both points. Newbridge do not have big numbers to pick from and it is remarkable that they are still in Division One football. That no doubt is down to the great tradition the club has going back some 90 years.
Newbridge like Swatragh have one ambition and that is to stay in senior football and for both every point is vital so this opening takes on added significance for both.
With the various Kearneys and McAtamneys to the fore, Swatragh have the ability to win. However under former star player, Dermot Dougan, the O’Leary’s punched above their weight last year and they will be targeting this game for both points which should make it an intriguing affair.
Given that the bottom placed team is automatically relegated early season points are the priority here.
VERDICT: Swatragh to claim crucial win.
Glen v Greenlough
Joe Cassidy and Oran O’Kane have the Clady boys in good shape for this difficult trip to Glen in their first game back in the top flight.
They face a tough task against Enda Gormley’s star-studded team and without the injured Enda Lynn their task will not be made any easier.
Gormley, assisted by Seamus Doyle, has a host of very talented players at his disposal but the loss of Conor Glass to Aussie Rules is a big blow.
On the plus side, Stephen O’Hara is back after missing last season with injury and John McCamley is also in full flow. Both teams play a very attractive brand of football but it is Glen who look to have the greater depth in their panel. Emmett Bradley and Ciaran McFaul around the middle third should give Glen a grip in this vital area and an opening two points.
Greenlough are very fit and have had some good pre-season results but the step up from the intermediate ranks is a big one.
They will give teams problems but the loss of Lynn could be pivotal.
Verdict: Lynn loss leans towards Glen Lynn loss leans towards Glen