By Odhrán Crumley
They say that familiarity breeds contempt…familiarity isn’t need for the contempt between these old rivals to strive. Tyrone and Derry meet in the McKenna Cup decider for the second consecutive year..this time the battleground is Pairc Esler, Newry.
Tyrone head into the game as 1/3 favourites in their bid for six titles in a row through the January competition, but with derbies the form book is out the window.
Both counties have given the competition the respect it deserves throughout the years exemplified by their success through the years. Meeting twice last year firstly in the compounds of the Owenbeg, Centre of Excellence. The ground was jam packed as no one wanted to miss the latest instalment of this old rivalry the result saw Tyrone steel the win late on, a feat they repeated two weeks later when Derry appeared to have two hands on the cup.
Both sides reached the final topping their sections after losing one game. Derry defeated Armagh, Queen’s and Monaghan on route losing only to Down. The Red Hands saw off UUJ, Donegal and Fermanagh with their defeat coming in the opening round at Cavan.
Harte and Barton have named strong sides in what will be the last chance to meet before their May showdown in the Ulster Championship. Lynch, Lynn, Kielt and Bell are all down to start for the Oakleafers blended in with a new breed who have impressed thus far McGrogan, Hagan and McKinless prepare for what will be their biggest test in the Derry jersey.
Harte has included Justin McMahon, Harte, Mattie Donnelly and Colm Cavanagh with brother Sean returning to the bench ahead of the league opener at home to Roscommon next week.
The contrast between both sides has come in how they have began games, Derry after the opening round have started sharpest in games leading games from the outset and in most cases holding that lead until the end. Tyrone however have been slower out of the blocks and coming from behind to claim their place in tonight’s contest.
One would expect this Derry side will be targeting a quick start in order to build belief with the sprinkling of new faces on show. The bench at Tyrone’s disposal tonight will be a major factor, many of its occupants should start come championship time and would walk on to any team in the country. McCann, McNabb, Cavanagh, McCarron and McNamee are just some of the experienced hands on the bench.
I expect Derry to start sharper and run into an early lead before the experience of the Tyrone side will take over after a tight, hard hitting contest typical of this fixture. The bookies favour Harte to claim his tenth McKenna Cup title as Tyrone manager..I believe they will be right. Tyrone by 4.