FROM ODHRÁN CRUMLEY
ULSTER SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP QUARTER FINAL 2017
DERRY VS TYRONE
THROW IN; 2PM
REFEREE MAURICE DEEGAN (LAOIS)
Twelve months on from last year’s one sided demolition of the ‘old enemy’ Mickey Harte will bring his side to the very same Brandywell venue hoping to create even more history in becoming the first Tyrone side to beat Derry in three consecutive championship meetings.
Gone are the days of the bitter, explosive, hard hitting match up’s between both sides that drew crowds from across the country. Instead Tyrone will enter what was once perceived to be a ‘lion’s den’ as heavy 1/4 favourites expected to run out easy winners.
The Red Hands already hold one win over the Oakleaf opponents this season a comfortable 2-13 to 1-7 in the Dr McKenna Cup Final, the championship as always is a different ball game.
Tyrone began their league campaign with a bang seeing off Roscommon, Cavan and Monaghan with relative ease and drawing with All Ireland Champions Dublin in Croke Park, suffocating the ‘boys in blue’ for large periods keeping them to only ten points. These points guaranteed their safety early on the final three league games ending in defeat to Donegal, Mayo and Kerry, something that does not worry Harte leaving the question to be asked had the focus already turned to this summer’s action.
Derry suffered a torrid league campaign ending in relegation to the third tier. Manager Damian Barton saw a lot of experienced players opt out of the inter- county set up meaning a host of the successful minor and under 21 sides got a chance to shine. Defensively the Oakleaf men struggled conceding an average of 20 points a game, including a heavy 3-15 against fellow strugglers Meath.
If the scale of the task wasn’t already huge enough for the men from the Foyle top scorer and the experienced James Kielt will miss the game through suspension after seeing red in the closing stages of their final league game away at Fermanagh. Veteran Mark Lynch has been named amongst the substitutes with an injury touted to the reason, however it would be very surprising if the big Banagher man were to play no part. Neil Forrester who played every minute of every league game misses out with a hip injury while on a more positive note Ciaran McFaul returns to make his first start of the year.
Tyrone have named three championship debutants in their fifteen Padraig Hampsey, Conal McCann and Kieran McGeary all set to debut in Celtic Park. McCann will take his place at midfield allowing Harte to deploy Mattie Donnelly in the full forward line as was the case in the league, Under 21 All Ireland winning Captain Kieran McGeary will add to the engine room around with Coalisland’s Padraig Hampsey slotting in too the full back line after some fine league form.
For the home side to have any chance of success they will have to firstly shore up a defence that conceded 10-86 across an ill-fated division two campaign. It was the three first half goals that killed last year’s meeting as a contest before half time. The front line of the Derry attack must take every chance and it is fair to say that they may have to hit the net at least once to give their side a chance, the scale of such a task should not be underestimated with only Cavan finding the net against the stringent Red Hand defence over the course of last year’s championship.
Many have questioned the scoring threat of Tyrone’s inside men. Throughout the course of the league five men; Cathal McShane (0-5), Darren McCurry (0-5), Mark Bradley (0-5), Sean Cavanagh (0-17), Ronan O’Neill (0-5), Mattie Donnelly (0-3) played inside only contributing 0-37 of the 3-87 the Ulster Champions hit over the course of the league. A possible over reliance on Sean Cavanagh has emerged the big Moy man grabbing just shy of half off the tally.
However in last year’s contest it was the inside men who caused the damage Ronan O’Neill hitting 2-1.
The contrasting fortunes of both teams league form clearly demonstrate the widening gap between both counties. One would assume Barton will flood the defence to avoid a repeat of last year’s first half demolition. Yet, even with such a plan it is hard to see anything but a repeat of last year’s score line and another win for Harte’s men. Tyrone -8.