Championship finalists lock horns for opener

Sunday (Reserves - 3.30pm; Seniors - 5.00pm)

Ballinascreen v Castledawson

(Aidan McAlynn & Peter O’Connor)

Castledawson were promoted last season, achieving a league and championship double to cap a tremendous season for the Broagh club. Now they have the much more difficult task of ensuring that they remain in the top flight. They have a cluster of excellent players like Dara and Ruairi Shivers, Niall McNicholl, Aidan McElhone, Paddy Henry, Conor Scullion and Martin Heaney and they have a self-belief that stand to them throughout the season.

Tony Scullion has taken over as manager of his home town club and will be looking to build on the good work done by Barry Dillon. The return to full-fitness of ace scorer Seamus Bradley will boost their attack. With Derry senior players like keeper Danny Devlin, Dermot McBride and Carlus McWillians in a well balanced side they will be one of the most difficult sides to beat this season.

Dungiven v Greenlough

(Martin McErlane & Sean Curran)

Intermediate championship winners in 2008 and beaten finalists in 2009 Greenlough maintained their progress last season with promotion from Division 2. The Clady side have lot a few players to emigration since the end of last season and could also be without their leading player Brian McCallion because of injury. They will be managed by Gary Coleman this season, Eugene Kelly back at the Dungiven helm.

Dungiven will be without a number of players for the start of the season with Gavan McLaughlin and Rian Kealey currently in Australia, Liam Hinphey recovering from injury and unlikely to be available for several weeks. Young players like Paddy Kelly, Ryan McElhinney, Sean Murray, Kevin Johnston and Donal McGilligan will be keen to cement starting places in the side.

Bellaghy v Banagher

(Anthony Campbell & Kevin McAllister)

The respective managers, Bellaghy’s Joe Cassidy and Banagher’s Paul Diamond, will check on their injured players before announcing their line ups. The Banagher manager will be without Padhraic Murphy who is in New Zealand, while Peter O’Kane sustained a shoulder injury recently but was back in hurling action at the weekend and Mark Lynch has been absent from county action recently with a hamstring injury. Again he returned against Donegal and that will boost Banagher’s chances. However the good form of P. J. McCloskey with Derry will be a huge boost for Banagher as he has seen little action in the past few years through injury. Bellaghy’s concerns surround their regular midfield partnership of Fergal Doherty and Joe Diver who have been inactive in recent weeks through injury.

The Tones had five points to spare over Banagher in the championship last year and will be looking for a positive start in what could be a close game.

Newbridge v Kilrea

(Barry Cassidy & Harry Tohill)

Newbridge’s Michael Bateson spent most of last year on the injured list, as did Ryan McElhone, but both will be on the O’Leary’s team sheet this weekend. Will the name of Dermot Dougan feature for yet another year on the Newbridge side? His form of last season suggests he will! Nathan Rocks is the emerging star on their side but they will need Niall and Danny Mulholland and the pacy Peter McGrogan to give them a strong platform.

Kilrea have appointed their former player Peter Doherty as manager andw ith a core of top class players like James and Charlie Kielt, Liam Morrow, Brian Og McAlary and Michael Quigg, Kilrea must now progress to another level. On their day they can beat any team but they must be consistent.

Loup v Lavey

(Mervyn McAleese & Maurice Corrigan)

Loup still have the majority of the side that lifted the championship title a couple of years ago, although the current unavailability of the competitive Paul Young weakens them. Players like Brian Doyle, Aidan McAlynn and Joe O’Kane are beginning to carve out their own niches in Loup tradition, with Anthony O’Neill one of the brightest young stars at minor level.

Lavey bowed out of the championship against Ballinderry and new manager Henry Downey will look to build on the rich promise of last season. With the likes of Kevin McCloy, Michael Drumm and Gary Cushenhan in defence, Sam Dodds and Gary Doyle at midfield, and Caolan O’Boyle, Kevin O’Neill and Paul Hearty up front they will again be a test for any side.

Glen v Slaughtneil

(John Joe Cleary & Eamon Devlin)

Slaughtneil showed great consistency last year, beating Ballinascreen in the league semi-final before going down to Ballinderry in the final. Once again Damian Barton will be at the helm, a good league season leading to championship success the ultimate goal for the Emmett’s. Key to that aspiration will be the physical well-being of their midfield talisman Patsy Bradley who has been out of action for a number of months now with a back injury. Rory McEldowney sustained a serious knee injury in a recent challenge game and there will be an anxious wait to find out the extent of the injury.

Glen blew hot and cold last year, their championship form giving glimpses of what they could achieve but Slaughtneil will provide a stern start to the season.

Ballinderry v Coleraine

(Sean McGuigan & Tommy Quigley)

What a game to start the season! These two sides gobbled up the honours last season, with Ballinderry winning the league final, Coleraine finishing 2010 with a championship final victory, and that against the Shamrocks in one of the best deciders for many years.

There will be a familiar look to both sides, Coleraine delighted that Barry McGoldrick has recovered from injury, Ballinderry glad to have Conleth Gilligan and Kevin ‘Moss’ McGuckin back after injury, especially with James Conway likely to miss much of the season. Dermot McGuckin is back after injury and there could be other concerns about some of last year’s regulars. Collie Devlin will miss the start of the season with a back injury.

Owen Roes should have the full complement of players for their visit to Shamrock Park. Ballinderry will be keen to repeat their end of season league play-off win over Owen Roes in what should be a top drawer contest.

Magherafelt v Glenullin

(Kieran Brolly & Gerry McCrystal)

Glenullin will be boosted by the quick return to fitness, and his outstanding form against Donegal, of Gerard O’Kane who was expected to miss that game with a hip injury. As last year he, and Paddy and Eoin Bradley, will be the key players for the Mitchel’s who will have most, if not all of the squad from last year back in action.

Rossas will hope to build on the excellent underage talent coming through and several of last season’s successful side could be filtered into the senior side this season, Ryan Ferris getting a taster last year. Christopher Spiers, Emmett McGuckin and Jarred Monaghan are very talented young players, Joe Keenan, Darren O’Neill and Murtagh O’Brien bringing experience.