There was a time when The Mc Kenna Cup was considered to be nothing more than a necessary evil in terms of competing in it. Fortunately the Ulster Council’s revamp of it has raised the profile and given it a real sense of worth. The inclusion of the University teams has certainly added to its appeal while the recent successes of Ulster sides at a national level have drawn more people to the games. It is not all that long ago that over nineteen thousand people travelled to Casement Park in Belfast to watch Tyrone take on Armagh in the semi final of the competition. Contrast that with the less than five hundred spectators who turned up in Enniskillen in 2003 to watch Monaghan beat an experimental Tyrone side in that year’s final.
In fairness much of the competition’s appeal is based on its timing and the extended break that county teams now have after they exit the championship in the summer. Players, managers and spectators are all keen to get back to playing and watching football and with The National Leagues only a few weeks away The Mc Kenna Cup provides an ideal opportunity for managers to gauge the readiness of their players for the second most important competition on the calendar.
This year’s Mc Kenna Cup comes to a conclusion on Saturday night when Tyrone face arch rivals Derry in Armagh, the competition having been delayed for various reasons during January and February. With both teams having faced each other recently in the league, there is bound to be a sense of unfinished business considering how close Tyrone came to getting something from that game. Football is a results business and both managers know that although no All Ireland titles are awarded in March, beating your local rivals in a final is always a good boost for a team.
Tyrone looked hungrier and sharper against Sligo last time out and will want to build on that display. The players will take a great deal of confidence from that game whereas Derry got a real wake up call when they lost heavily to Laois at home.
It looks like being a very competitive game and I would expect a sizeable crowd to travel to the Cathedral City and my fancy is for Tyrone to gain revenge for their league defeat of a few weeks ago.