Red Hands to begin Dr McKenna Cup defence in January.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

THE new season is set to get under way on January 3, when Tyrone begin the defence of their Dr McKenna Cup title.

The draw was made at the Ulster Council competition launch at Belf ast's Balmoral Hotel, when the Red Hands were grouped along with Cavan, Antrim and St Mary's in Section A.

And it's certain the holders will make another concerted bid to lift the trophy that they have won for the past six seasons.

The winners of Section A will qualify for a semi-final against the top team in Section C, which comprises Donegal, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Queen's.

Round two takes place on Sunday January 7, with round three to be played on Wednesday January 10.

The semi-finals are fixed for Sunday January 14, with the final to be played on Saturday January 20, a week before the start of the National Football League.

Representing Tyrone at the launch was Harry Loughran, who is hoping to break into the starting fifteen in 2018, following an outstanding season with his club.

"You grow up and you dream to play for Tyrone and it was great to be part of the squad last year," he said "It was very disappointing the way it ended and getting back into the club scene was a good way to move on. We got a really good run with the Moy thankfully and hopefully we're not finished yet.

"Listen, 2017 has been a great year and hopefully we can build from that.

Hopefully I can feature a wee bit more for Tyrone too." Loughran is looking forward to learning from former Tyrone star Stephen O'Neill, who has joined the backroom team and will be working to improve the attacking effectiveness of the side in the season ahead.

"It can only be a great thing, he was one of the best forwards of all time in Gaelic football. I'm sure the boys are really looking forward to learning what they can learn from him.

"It will be great to get an insight into his views on forward play and try and learn from that. Hopefully that will improve us this year.

"Nowadays you have to be defensively solid and I think last year, look at the Ulster championship, the forward play was very good as well.

"Obviously we came up short against Dublin for various reasons. We'll work to try and rectify that this year and I'm sure Stevie will help that as well." Loughran is just one of many fringe players and new recruits who will be attempting to make their mark in the early part of the season.

"Each player will have goals and targets and the team will have goals and targets. That really starts in the McKenna Cup and you want to hit the ground running."

"That'll be the case when we meet up collectively in a few weeks. Obviously there are different areas you'd like to improve on, every team can improve."

Despite his involvement in the All-Ireland Club IFC with his club, Moy, Loughran intends to feature in the McKenna Cup, but will definitely not play in the final, should Tyrone qualify, as the Tir na nOgs' semi-final clash with An Ghaeltacht of Kerry is on the same weekend.

"I'll get discussing that with Audi (Kelly), Gavin (McGilly) and Mickey (Harte) and we'll get working out some schedule.

"The Moy has to be the main priority at the minute. There's probably no that big of a window for training though, you're talking maybe six weeks.

"I'll try and do a bit with both teams and push on from there."

"Speaking to Mickey, I'm hoping to get a few games in the McKenna Cup and just get a balance between Moy and Tyrone.

"The competition for places in the Tyrone squad is immense, it's very tough to get into it.

"You have to aspire to that though and the McKenna Cup is a great competition for the lads who haven't really played that much, for the lads that are new in and obviously for the experienced lads as well.

"Mickey has the philosophy that you go out to win every game in every competition. Particularly with the league starting a bit earlier, the McKenna Cup is the perfect opportunity."

Colm Cavanagh is also set to play in the All-Ireland series with Moy, and is unlikely to feature in the Dr McKenna Cup.

"Colm's been pivotal for the Moy for the last couple of years and it has been the same for Tyrone as well. He's one of these guys that leads by example.

"He probably isn't the biggest talker in the world in the changing rooms but when he goes out and play, you can only look up to him.

"He throws himself into every tackle, he's excellent in the air and he's just an all-round leader on the field.

"That's the sort of guy you want on your team and if you're going into a war or a tight game, it's the Colm Cavanaghs you want on your side."

The 2018 Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup will throw in on January 3 and will feature all nine Ulster Counties as well as the province's main University teams - Sigerson Cup holders, St Mary's University College, Belfast, Ulster University and Queen's University, Belfast.

The sections drawn at the launch were :
Section A: St Mary's; Tyrone; Cavan; Antrim
Section B: UUJ; Derry; Down; Armagh
Section C: Queen's University; Donegal; Monaghan; Fermanagh

Semi-final pairings:
Winners of Section C v Winners of Section A;
Winners of Section B v Best Placed Runner Up


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