The biggest tie of the 2020 McKenna Cup takes place in the Athletic Grounds this evening, when hosts Armagh lock horns with old rivals Tyrone, as they battle it out for a guaranteed place in the last four of the competition.
Of course, it’s quite possible that both these sides could end up in the semi finals, but that shouldn’t take away from tonight’s duel, which will determine who enters the semi finals as group winners.
Tonight’s game is a repeat of the last year’s final, which was also played in the Athletic Grounds, and Tyrone will be hoping for the same outcome as 12 months ago, when they won by two points, in a hotly contested affair.
That game made for great entertainment and suggested that perhaps the gap is closing between the two arch rivals, although it was only January time and tonight’s result must also be taken with similar caution.
Armagh and Tyrone have already put Cavan to the sword so far in the McKenna Cup, and both sides tried out some new talent in their opening ties.
With Conor McAliskey opting out for the year, Cathal McShane linked to football down under and Mattie Donnelly side-lined for the foreseeable future, Mickey Harte will be on the lookout for new attacking options.
Armagh are equally trying to boost their forward division and the introduction to county football was a pleasant one for Clann Eireann’s Conor Turbitt, as he grabbed 2-2 from play against Cavan on his debut, while youngsters Rian O’Neill and Jason Duffy will once again complete the full forward line tonight.
Others who made their first appearance in the orange and white were wing half back Conor O’Neill, who put in a good shift, while Caolan McConville and Mark Toal were sprung from the bench. O’Neill and McConville will get the opportunity to display their talents tonight again as both are named to start.
Niall Brady is handed his first start for tonight’s meeting, as the Collegeland net minder replaces Blaine Hughes from the last day out. James Morgan also got some game time into his legs with a second half appearance against Cavan, and the Armagh followers would love to see him back to full fitness.
Armagh have named the same midfield pairing for this evening with Niall Grimley and Oisin O’Neill holding onto the number 8 and 9 jerseys and the options Armagh have around the centre of the field could cause big headaches this season for Kieran McGeeney.
Jarlath Og Burns was used as a sub against Cavan and is likely to see more game time this evening while another option around the middle is Stephen Sheridan, who has been named to start at full back for tonight’s game, a new position for the Forkhill man.
While it is still only January, both sides will be keen to lay down a marker and continue their winning form as we edge closer to the commencement of the national league. Tyrone have dominated the McKenna Cup for a number of years now and they don’t look to be taking any backward steps.
They’ve made 14 changes from the side that defeated Cavan on Sunday with Kyle Coney the only man retaining his place. It is a much improved Tyrone side with the likes of Niall Sludden, Frank Burns and Ronan O’Neill all due to start.
Both teams certainly won’t be at full strength tonight but there are a lot of new faces trying to push their way into the starting line ups. If Armagh can produce the same quality they did against Cavan in the opening period, they could be on their way to the first win over their rivals since their championship victory back in 2014.