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Opening weekend: Navillus Senior Football Championship   04/05/2014

John Riordan

The Navillus Senior Football Championship begins in earnest this Sunday afternoon at Gaelic Park.

2.30pm: Donegal vs Cork, Referee: Dean O'Connor. 
4pm: Kerry vs Cavan, Referee: John Fitzpatrick. 
5.30pm: Leitrim vs Monaghan, Referee: Martin O'Connor

The first of three highly competitive clashes throws-in at 2.30pm and pits the strengthened Donegal against the always formidable Cork.

Many of the Cork team will have benefited from the intensive New York senior team training schedule with nine included on that panel at the moment. Cork boss Pat Scanlan has named Gary Downey as his captain while a talented panel has been boosted by the likes of Denis O'Sullivan and Hugh Curran with Rory Stafford and big midfielder Alan Raftery always dependable for the Rebels.

This time last year, Cork lost to Donegal in the opening round and ultimately missed the play-offs by a point so will be keenly aware that every result counts. 

Donegal manager Pat McGill has yet to name a team captain but will look to the likes of new players Brendan Quigley and Adrian O'Connor as well as last year's captain Paul McGinley and American-born goalkeeper Brian Cullinane. 

The Donegal men made it to the semi-final last year  and only lost out to eventual champions Kerry by a point. That was their first season back up at the top level after winning the intermediate championship in 2012 so with an improved panel they will look to go a step further this year.

Champions Kerry take center stage at 4pm with last Sunday's 7s winners Cavan hoping to create an early debt in the title defense of the Kingdom.

New Kerry manager Niall Moran is taking over a talented panel but having installed his cousin Ian Galvin as Kerry boss two years ago when club chairman, Moran will know that he is following in the footsteps of a talented bainisteoir.

Captain John Curran will lead an impressive team which includes players such as Down's Ger McCartan, New York senior vice-captain Gary O'Driscoll, veteran Mike Jim Fitzgerald, Niall Farrell and new player from Donegal, the intercounty star Ross Wherity. Kerry senior Teddy Doyle is also a key component of what will be an intriguing title defense.

Meanwhile, Cavan manager Mícheál Sloan will take his man into this season opener on the back of an impressive 7s win last weekend in Gaelic Park. 

Ciaran Shields will captain the Brefni men while six players have been training hard with the New York seniors including Tommy Warburton, Ronan McGinley, Gavin Joyce, Richie Morgan and Mike Reilly. 

Finally at 5.30pm, there will be a baptism of fire for newcomers and intermediate champions Monaghan when they face Leitrim on their return to senior football after over a decade.

Dan Scott's men have been on the up and up since they last experienced football at this level over a decade ago and he has managed to keep the core of the team that won last year's title in such fine style.

Captain James Connolly will be a key player along with Mikey Regan, Sean Kelly and Bonnie Duffy while a couple of canny draft pick-ups in the form of Kevin Connolly (Brooklyn Shamrocks), Paul O'Hara (Longford, away this Sunday) and Alan Hearty (Armagh) will keep things ticking along this season.

It promises to be an excellent afternoon of football and a perfect way to launch a summer of centenary GAA at Gaelic Park.