Dungiven v Loup (Sat, O’Cahan Park 3.30pm: Ref - Harry Tohill)
Both have had opening victories so whoever wins this will move top of the group. Dungiven’s championship victory over Foreglen was their first in five years but this is a step up from any team they’ve played this year. Without being overly impressive, Loup saw off Ballinascreen by three points, Ciaran Devlin the star man with 2-2. For long periods Foreglen held their own against Dungiven but faded in the home straight.
Stephen O’Neill has been tasked to bring Dungiven back to a serious force again and he has a lot to work with. He has a big panel but there is a lack of authority in the key areas although the return of Kevin Johnston has given them a lift. It will be a real confidence booster if they could win here. Paddy Bradley has Loup well drilled with a solid full back line and a skilful midfielder in Terence O’Brien. What they need is a bit more from their wing backs and half forwards. Loup are favourites but Dungiven might just land their first big victory in years.
Swatragh v Claudy (Sat, Owenbeg, 2pm : Ref - Caolan McDonald)
Claudy suffered a heavy defeat at Slaughtneil in the opening round and this looks like another tough ask. Swatragh did well to defeat Lavey without their suspended midfielder Patrick Kearney. Under experienced manager Kevin Madden, the Davitt’s had a decent league campaign with a notable improvement in their defence. In their win at Lavey they conceded just 10 points with Oisin McWilliams scoring 1-2 from midfield. Claudy, with a number of regulars missing, could only score three points at Slaughtneil and none came from a forward. It’s hard to see them improving enough to trouble this solid looking Swatragh who are very strong in the middle third.
The dangerous looking Swatragh attack should be getting more scores than they are but that could be due to the half forwards dropping back to reinforce the defence. Claudy have dropped away badly over the past few years and it’s difficult to see them stopping the slide here.
Slaughtneil v Lavey (Sat, Owenbeg 7.30 pm: Ref - Barry Cassidy.)
Holders Slaughtneil, now back to near full strength, have already beaten the young Lavey side in the league with a bit to spare. They will be favourites to do so again although on the big Owenbeg pitch the pace of Lavey could cause a few problems for the champions.
While this will be a harder test for Slaughtneil after their breeze against Claudy, it’s hard to see Lavey overturning them. Slaughtneil have the edge in experience and are physically stronger. In a defence boasting excellent keeper Antoin McMullan, the fit again Karl McKaigue, Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue and the powerful Brendan Rogers, it’s hard to see the small Erin’s Own forwards making much of a dent.
Lavey fell to a surprise defeat against Swatragh and could end up battling with Claudy to avoid bottom spot. With a run of underage titles behind them Lavey will have good days ahead but this is not likely to be one of them.
Bellaghy v Magherafelt (Sat, Bellaghy 5pm: Ref - Martin McErleane.)
Bellaghy lost to a strong Glen team on day one while Magherafelt beat Kilrea by 0-13 to 0-8. Bellaghy have a long way to go to emulate their great teams but it’s a time for patience as manager John McKeever builds. Over half their team against Glen were under 21.
Magherafelt too have their young players but also leaders like Jarrad Monaghan, Emmett McGuckin, the Heavron brothers and Conor Kearns, now restored to a better suited attacking position. Talking about attackers this is the inherent weakness in the Rossas set up. They simply do not score enough. Thirteen points against a team playing in a lower division indicates they need to improve.
Bellaghy had a decent league and actually beat Magherafelt but neither were full strength. Bellaghy may struggle at midfield against the power of Danny Heavron and Emmett McGuckin. Magherafelt will be favourites but Bellaghy at home ground will feel they can replicate their league win.
Eoghan Rua v Newbridge (Sun, Owenbeg 2pm: Ref - Gregory McWilliams)
Both won on day one, Newbridge having four points to spare over Ballinderry away from home while the Coleraine defeated Banagher by 4-13 to 1-15, a slightly flattering result.
Teenager Lorcan McMullen has been a big addition to the Eoghan Rua attack and he bagged 2-2 against Banagher. Niall Holly is still one of the top midfielders in the county and can give his team a hold in this area.
Newbridge look to be a team on the way up while Eoghan Rua are not the force they were but still cannot be taken for granted due to their ability to carve out goals. The ‘Bridge are a slick moving team with two regular county players, Paudie McGrogan and Conor Doherty, as well as recent minor All Ireland winner Mark Doherty.
Eoghan Rua had a good start but poor finish to the league and for the championship they need to shore up a defence lacking pace. More than half their team is over 30 but they keep themselves in good shape. It’s hard to call but experience might shade it.
Foreglen v Ballinascreen (Sun,, Foreglen, 3.30pm: Ref - Damian Harkin)
Foreglen will be first to admit that they would be happier in the Intermediate Championship but, for now, they have to make the best of their lot in the senior grade.
This is the meeting of two teams who lost their openers. In defeat, Ballinascreen probably did better against Loup than Foreglen did against Dungiven! It has been a distant memory the last time that Foreglen won a senior championship game. Their better days were at intermediate level but with home advantage they can give Ballinascreen a real test though they lack the overall balance of Ciaran McElroy’s improving team.
There is no lack of experience in the Foreglen ranks with players like Oisin Duffy, Mark McCormick and sharp shooter Kevin O’Connor and on the wings they have some nifty young players but Ballinascreen look to have the edge. Foreglen are never easily beaten at home but ‘Screen look to have too much.
Kilrea v Glen (Sun, Kilrea, 6.30pm: Ref - Brendan Quinn)
Kilrea put up a respectable performance against Magherafelt in the opening round and have been unfortunate to be drawn in such a tough group given the progress they made in Division 1B.
Declan Bradley has introduced some bright, young players but they don’t have the depth of Glen who got past a youthful Bellaghy in round one despite kicking a host of wides, something manager Malachy O’Rouke will be concerned about. O’Rourke has remodelled Glen whose half back line of Ethan Doherty, Ciaran McFaul and Tiernan Flanagan is more like a half forward line. This leaves their forward line a bit light looking but the return from injury of Stevie O’Hara is a boost. Against Bellaghy they were missing some influential players including Emmett Bradley and Jack Doherty.
As this is a semi local derby both teams will give it their all but Kilrea need to make every chance count. It looks a task that is beyond them at present.
Ballinderry v Banagher (Sunday, Owenbeg, 6-30pm: Ref - Richie Donaghue)
Both lost their opening games but performance wise Banagher will probably be the happier despite a seven point defeat to Coleraine. In a dull encounter Ballinderry lost at home to Newbridge.
Neither had a great league but Ballinderry were in the higher grade. Last year Banagher were hammered by the Shamrocks so they will be hoping to be more competitive and in terms of scoring, in their last outings Banagher have hit 10 more points than the Shamrocks. Remarkably, against Newbridge, Ryan Bell failed to score and he’s been the main contributor to the Ballinderry attack in recent years. Gareth McKinless is the key Ballinderry player with manager Mickey Conlon giving him a free hand. Tiernan Moore is in outstanding form for Banagher and viewed as the best forward in the county who is not in Rory Gallagher’s panel.
It is unlikely to be a runaway for Ballinderry but they should win.