Dr McKenna Cup: Venue switch for Tyrone-Antrim opener

Niall Loughlin of Derry and Matthew Donnelly of Tyrone during last year's Dr McKenna Cup final
Niall Loughlin of Derry and Matthew Donnelly of Tyrone during last year's Dr McKenna Cup final

The McKenna Cup game between holders Tyrone and Antrim on Wednesday night has been moved from Healy Park to the Athletic Grounds in Armagh.

Mickey Harte's side have won the last six editions of the competition - beating Derry in last year's final.

Among the other matches on opening night, Down and Armagh will renew their rivalry at Pairc Esler while Fermanagh will host Monaghan at Brewster Park.

Derry, Cavan and Donegal will start against third-level teams.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is expected to field an experimental side for the visit of Antrim to Omagh but former All Star winner Mattie Donnelly will lead the team after he was named as the county's new senior captain following the retirement of Sean Cavanagh.

Donnelly, who is only the sixth Tyrone captain since 2002, will be assisted this season by Peter Harte, who has been named as vice-captain.

Antrim manager Liam Harbison has already indicated that his priority for 2018 will be to lead the county back into Division 3 of the National League, following their relegation on points difference last year.

The Saffrons will be without defender Peter Healy for their McKenna Cup campaign as he targets the Division 4 opener against Leitrim on 28 January.

The stand-out game on the opening night is the meeting of neighbours Down and Armagh in Newry in a repeat of last summer's championship meeting, which was won by the Mourne county.

Rory Gallagher's first game in charge of the Fermanagh footballers will see Malachy O'Rourke's Monaghan pay a visit to Brewster Park.

Dr McKenna Cup round 1 - Wednesday 3 January, 20:00 GMT
CavanvSt Mary's
DerryvUlster University
DonegalvQueen's University

At Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan will face the reigning Sigerson Cup champions, St Mary's who are managed by former Tyrone coach Paddy Tally.

Declan Bonner will begin his second stint in charge of Donegal with a match-up against Queen's University in Ballybofey.

Bonner will be forced to experiment with new players for the McKenna Cup campaign with the likes of Michael Murphy, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn and Leo McLoone not expected to return to action until the National League.

Derry have also had a change of management for 2018 but once again they will be without their Slaughtneil contingent for the early stages of the season under new manager Damian McErlain.

Ahead of their opening game against Ulster University in Owenbeg, McErlain has named a 29-man senior panel with an average age of 24 for the upcoming season with Sigerson Cup winner, Ruairi Mooney among those hoping to make his senior debut.

This year's Dr McKenna Cup will be held over a shorter timeframe.

The semi-finals are due to be held on 14 January with the final scheduled for 20 January.

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