St Michael’s defence of the MacRory Cup begins in earnest this Saturday in Derrygonnelly when they take on Peter Canavan’s Holy Trinity College Cookstown with the prize for the winner being a quarter final clash with St Patrick’s Maghera.

St Michael’s finished second in their group which means that they didn’t secure automatic qualification for the last eight of the competition but manager Dom Corrigan feels that may benefit them if they are to progress through Saturday’s encounter.

“This is what we have been preparing for over the last two months since the league concluded. We are out early but I think it’s not a bad thing because last year we were straight into the quarter finals and very nearly got caught by Abbey so I feel it is maybe best to be in at this stage because if we are good enough we can overcome this hurdle on Saturday and that will help us going forward,” he said.

However, Corrigan acknowledges that his side face a big test on Saturday with Cookstown having blown away the challenge of St Ronan’s Lurgan in the first round of play offs.

“I watched Cookstown take Lurgan apart two weeks ago in Lurgan,” said Dom.

“Any team that Peter Canavan is with is going to be supremely fit, well drilled with loads of talent and you can see the Canavan stamp all over the team. I’m glad to have seen them and a number of our players were up as well and we are under no illusions as we were all impressed with them.”

And the St Michael’s manager says his side need to be on their game from the first whistle if they are to stay in the competition.

“We have to be on our game because Cookstown have that benefit of a game behind them so it is advantage them in that regard. I’m happy though with the way our training has went. We have played mostly in house games this year because many of the challenge games we had lined up had to be pulled with the weather but the in house games were good and we have good depth in the squad.

“We know we have a a huge challenge ahead of us as Cookstown set up well at the back and they have got a couple of very potent forwards. But we have worked on it over the last few weeks to come up with a template that we feel maybe can overcome what Cookstown are going to throw at us although like most championship games it is going to come down to the team that brings that level of intensity to the game right from the off,” he added.

One advantage St Michael’s will be hoping to take advantage of is that it is a home game.

“We are very pleased that it is in Derrygonnelly, the boys would be familiar with it and it is a home ground. It is good for our supporters too that our first title defence is on home territory and we would like to thank Derrygonnelly for giving us the pitch,” he said.

Corrigan though will go into the game without one of his key men in midfielder Joe McDade but he stresses that it is an opportunity for somebody else to come in and make their case.

“Joe is not going to be available to us this weekend due to injury but players getting injured is another player’s opportunity and I think that there are other players well capable of stepping up and Saturday is a great opportunity to do that.”

St Michael’s can also draw on the vast experience they gained last year in winning both the MacRory and Hogan Cups with a number of those players back again this year.

“We have experience in the forward line with the likes of Tom (Keenan), Darragh (McBrien) and Micheál (Glynn) back from last year and a number of players have also come in and stepped up.

“We also have good experience at the back with Ronan McHugh who played Ulster Club with Derrygonnelly, Josh Largo Elis and a boost has been the return of Rian McGovern as he is a quality player,” commented Corrigan.

As champions, St Michael’s will be aiming to keep hold of the cup for as long as they can although for Corrigan they can’t afford to look any further ahead than this Saturday and Holy Trinity, Cookstown and he is expecting a real battle.

“We want to hold on to it but we realise that retaining it is very hard and we are looking no further than this Saturday.

“Cookstown moved into the MacRory Cup this year as they felt they had a very good team and that has been proven the case.

“We are going to be in a real battle on Saturday but we are looking forward to it and in championship football there is never an easy game. I’m confident though that our boys will have the quality and that mental strength to stand up to it and hopefully get the ticket to take us across the line,” he concluded.