TYRONE’S Declan McClure is preparing to face Armagh for the third time in a third different competition – and he’s hoping that he can help edge the score back in the Red Hands’ favour.
The Clonoe man’s second ever game in a county jersey was in the decidedly low-key O’Fiaich Cup final against Armagh in December 2016. Despite a 3-10 to 0-10 loss, McClure caught the eye with two points from play.
The landscape had altered dramatically eight months later though as Mickey Harte’s side annihilated Armagh 3-17 to 0-8 in the All-Ireland quarter-final at a soaking Croke Park with McClure again on the scoresheet.
No meeting in 2018 ensures that Saturday night’s McKenna Cup final clash at the Athletic Grounds will be the third time that the player has come up against his neighbours.
“It’s like every game, you go into it to win,” he said. “You’re trying to improve every game, improve as a team and improve as an individual. You want to get yourself ready for that first league game (v Kerry) but we want to win every game we play in.
“Saturday will be the same as that and we’ll be hoping to come out on top. They’ve (Armagh) definitely come on and they’re firing on all cylinders.
“They’re working hard, you can tell that they’re getting to the level they want to in training because it’s showing in the games.
“They’re really improving and they’re going to be a hard team to stop on Saturday.”
Regardless of the outcome, it’s likely that Harte and his counterpart Kieran McGeeney will be happy with their January (and December) work ahead of the National League throw-in the following week.
With a team holiday in Thailand complicating matters, Harte has opted to use fewer regulars than usual as they target an 11th McKenna Cup title during his time in charge.
That hasn’t hampered them too much though even if they took a bit of time to get going in the three-point semi-final win over Derry.
A number of the newer players once again caught the eye in that fixture with Brian Kennedy delivering a towering performance in the middle while Darragh Canavan again proved elusive following his interval introduction.
After the game Conal McCann said that he loves seeing players coming in and taking their chance even if it means more competition for himself.
McClure echoed those thoughts with Kennedy set to be another rival for a midfield jersey – although they won’t get the chance to rekindle their midfielder partnership on Saturday as Kennedy will be on Sigerson duty.
“It’s brilliant to see,” he said of the newer players impressing. “ There are players that should be in this squad and now they’re getting their opportunity.They’re getting their chance to play and they’re showing that they’re worthy to be here.
“Brian (Kennedy) has really shown that he has the ability. You’re always pleased to see that. It’s very competitive right there, a lot of young players are in there and going very well.
“Talented lads, seeing that coming through allows everything to move forward. That can only strengthen the panel and it’s looking good at the minute.”