By Shaun Casey
A DERBY day championship opener is the task ahead of Killeavy this weekend as they begin their campaign with a visit to neighbours Dromintee.
For Killeavy manager Tommy Coleman, who won the Armagh SFC with his native club Clann Éireann in 2021, he’s heading into the unknown, but is under no illusions of the challenge his side face.
“It’s certainly an unknown for me coming from the other end of the county,” said Coleman. “I’m only realising how big of a game it is for the people in around that area, it’s a massive game for them.
“Championship brings its own intensity, but you throw that derby encounter into it and the familiarity of it, everybody knowing each other so well, it’s going to be a real battle.
“To go to Dromintee is going to be a big ask and we’re going to have to be at full tilt if we’re looking to take anything out of it.”
Ciaron O’Hanlon has returned for Killeavy after a long spell on the sidelines, as has youngster Oisin King, while Conor O’Neill is available once again following a brilliant year with Armagh.
“Players are starting to come back a bit,” added Coleman. “Obviously, it’s trying to get them game time and get them up to speed for the championship.
“Ciaron’s had two or three good games behind him, and you can see he’s getting his touch and everything is starting to come back. It’s great for the squad to have someone of Ciaron’s ability and what he brings, he lifts everybody else and brings everyone up to that level.
“We’ve only had Conor for one game, and he’ll be back in again now, he took a bit of a break after the Armagh campaign. Oisin has got a few games under his belt, but he’s been out for over a year so it’s going to take a few games to get him up and running again.”
Killeavy have been drawn into a group of death alongside Dromintee, two-time winners Maghery and Ballymacnab. While Coleman isn’t a big fan of the format, he insists his side will embrace the group stages.
“I can see why Armagh have gone that way, I think all the counties have more or less embraced this group format now in the championship with the exception of Tyrone.
“It puts an awful lot of pressure on the players, certainly for the teams with the smaller squads, how to manage the players and keep them fit, it’s extremely difficult.
“There’s nothing we can do about it; we have to embrace it. I’m lucky with the squad of players that I have and the quality that’s in the team, but for the rural clubs that don’t have as big a numbers, there’s pressure on them.
“I think that the fact that the Division 1A teams are put at the disadvantage of two away games, that’s unfair too. Looking at it, a home venue, an away venue and a neutral venue would be fine. But that’s the way it is at the moment.”