(Division One - Part 1) Ballinderry remain benchmark for challengers

Banagher, who may be missing county midfielder PJ McCloskey (pictured), will be anxious to avoid a repeat of last season's flirtation with relegation when the season throws-in on Sunday.
Banagher, who may be missing county midfielder PJ McCloskey (pictured), will be anxious to avoid a repeat of last season's flirtation with relegation when the season throws-in on Sunday.
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Banagher v Swatragh

Both these teams have had a lot of players involved with Derry hurlers while Banagher have had PJ McCloskey and Mark Lynch involved with the footballers. County captain Lynch is out with an injured hand but his absence will be balanced by Swatragh losing Ruairi Convery to an ankle injury. PJ McCloskey could also miss the game. Banagher blossomed late in the season last year when they brought back some of their more experienced players. Swatragh, after a two year stint in Division Two, are back in the senior ranks but they have lost some of their squad to emigration. Banagher have had a pretty miserable run in the league for the past two years but with home advantage they should just about nick this one.

Bellaghy v Dungiven

Dungiven have brought in John McCloskey as their fitness trainer, the Belfast man having previously worked with Bellaghy. Last year neither of these teams set the world alight and both will be hoping for a positive start. Gareth Doherty is in charge of Bellaghy while Dungiven boss Emmett McKeever has been joined by his brother Kieran. In recent years Dungiven have been strong at underage level while Bellaghy have some tried and trusted men of experience so it could be a ‘Youth v Experience’ scenario. Joe Diver may give the home team the edge at midfield but in attacking terms Dungiven have the edge through Darryl O’Kane, Fergal McGuigan and Ryan McElhinney. Liam Hinphey will be absent though injury and the young Dungiven side could struggle against an experienced Tones 15 who will be without Fergal Doherty and Ryan McNally.

Craigbane v Glenullin

Despite a host of injuries and emigration, Craigbane still stayed comfortably in Division One but narrowly lost the corresponding game last year to Glenullin. This game will feature the two youngest managers in the top league. Glenullin have 29-year-old Michael O’Kane in charge and he has four brothers in the panel. Craigbane have enlisted 25-year-old Gary O’Neill from neighbouring Owen Roes of Donemana, younger brother of Tyrone senior captain Stephen O’Neill. Paddy Bradley has fought back from yet another serious knee injury but it may be a bit early yet for his competitive comeback. Glenullin did well in the Ulster League and fitness will not be a problem. With Eoin Bradley and Gerard O’Kane manning key positions it looks like an away win.

Ballinderry v Ballinascreen

Reigning champions Ballinderry usually win these meetings but never by much and this looks another close one. With Tony Scullion stepping down from the ‘Screen job, Mickey Boyle is the new man at the helm and he has a good squad to work with. It remains to be seen if some of the longer serving Ballinderry players will make a re-appearance but they have some good young players. Indeed their under 21 team was good enough to reach the Ulster final. Two of Ballinascreen’s key men, Carlus McWilliams and Dermot McBride, are doubtful with injury so it looks like Ballinderry will start with a win