It’s Wednesday already and so our latest make-or-break challenge – by far the biggest one we’ve faced this year – is fast approaching. It comes in the form of Ulster champions Tyrone, three-time All-Ireland winners in the Noughties but a county against whom we’ve got a decent enough championship record.
The most recent time we played them in the championship was three years ago when we met at the All-Ireland semi-final stage. We came into that clash having given defending All-Ireland champions Donegal a beating they wouldn’t forget in a hurry in the quarters but the Red Hands gave us a far tougher examination before we finally pulled through to win by a margin of six points, on a 1-16 to 0-13 scoreline.
Our most recent meeting was in the League, in February last year at MacHale Park. That was an unhappy afternoon for us, in a match where we didn’t appear to have a clue how to deal with their suffocating blanket and we ended up falling to a dispiriting 1-11 to 1-7 loss – my downbeat audio report from that one is here. Tyrone might have looked like a team that knew what they were about that day but they ended up getting relegated from Division One at the end of that campaign.
Things didn’t get better for them at the start of the championship last year either. Drawn to play Donegal away in the preliminary round, Mickey Harte’s men fell to a fourth successive championship defeat to the men from the Hills, losing in Ballybofey by 1-13 to 1-10.
As they’d done so often in the past, however, Tyrone dusted themselves down and took off on a journey through the qualifiers. It was an odyssey that eventually saw them make further progress in the championship than Donegal and took them all the way to the All-Ireland semi-final and a narrow defeat to Kerry.
The way back for them began in Omagh with a 1-14 to 0-8 win over Limerick in Round 1B and Healy Park was also the venue for their narrow 1-10 to 0-11 Round 2B win over Meath. They thrashed Tipperary – the county ourselves and Tyrone are now playing for the right to meet in this year’s All-Ireland semi-final – in the third round by 0-19 to 0-7 down at Semple Stadium and then it was onto Croke Park where they accounted for Sligo by 0-21 to 0-14 in Round 4B.
Monaghan, Anglo-Celt winners for the second time in three years in 2015, would no doubt have greeted the news that Tyrone were their quarter-final opponents with a less than fulsome cheer. Tyrone had dealt with them comfortably at the same stage of the championship in 2013 and they repeated the dose in August last year, winning by 0-18 to 0-14.
The Red Hands’ gallop was finally halted in the penultimate round last August when they lost out to Kerry by 0-18 to 1-11. They were actually in hard luck that day, denied a clear-cut penalty – by the weak-as-water Maurice Deegan – with five minutes to go, at a stage when the Kingdom were wide open to a late Nordie haymaker.
That was the last competitive match Tyrone have lost. Like Dublin, Mickey Harte’s charges are undefeated so far in 2016 – winning six and drawing two in the League, winning three and drawing one in the championship.
Tyrone were operating in Division Two of the NFL this spring and they went about their work there in a very business-like manner. Five wins on the spin guaranteed an immediate return to the top tier for 2017 and they ended the regulation fixtures with draws against Ulster opposition.
Their Division Two record this year reads as follows: a 0-10 to 0-8 over Cavan at Healy Park in Round 1, a 1-11 to 1-9 win over Galway at Pearse Stadium in Round 2, a 1-14 to 0-14 victory over Laois at O’Moore Park in Round 3, a 2-15 to 0-12 win over Derry at Healy Park in Round 4, a 1-17 to 1-11 win over Meath at Páirc Tailteann in Round 5 and then draws against Armagh (0-13 to 1-10 at Healy Park in Round 6) and Fermanagh (1-9 to 0-12 at Brewster Park in Round 7).
They then ended their League campaign as they’d started it, with a win over Cavan. Tyrone had five points to spare over the Breffni County in that Division Two final at Croke Park, winning out by 1-17 to 0-15.
Clashes with Cavan dominated their Ulster championship campaign this year too. Following a facile 3-14 to 0-12 quarter-final win over Derry at Celtic Park, Tyrone suffered the shock of conceding three goals against Cavan in their drawn semi-final. That 0-16 to 3-7 stalemate at St Tiernach’s Park must have been a bit of a jolt for them seeing as they conceded the same number of goals in a single game as they’d let in all year up until then.
They righted themselves a week later back in Clones, however, smashing five goals past Terry Hyland’s side (though conceding two more themselves) as they cruised to a 5-18 to 2-17 replay win. That victory put them through to their first Ulster decider in six years and it was also the win that started all the pundits cooing about them, anointing Mickey Harte’s team as the lads most likely to put it up to the Dubs this year.
Donegal damn near put an end to that chatter, though, in last month’s Ulster final. It looked like they had Tyrone by the throat as the second half played out and when Christy Toye pointed to put them ahead in injury time Donegal appeared to have done enough to confirm the recent hegemony they’ve enjoyed over their neighbours. This time, though, Tyrone had other ideas, as a booming score from Seán Cavanagh, followed by a sensational long-range strike from Peter Harte and a late, late clincher from substitute Kieran McGeary earned them a two-point win, on a scoreline of 0-13 to 0-11.
That win was huge psychological boost for the Red Hands, ending a long run of championship defeats at the hands of Donegal and seeing them capture their first Ulster title since 2010. It’s a victory that also gives them significant momentum heading into our showdown with them on Saturday, a match for which they’ve been installed as 4/6 favourites by the bookies.
Never mind the money men, though, what do you reckon: will we do it on Saturday?
Will we take down Tyrone?
- Yes (73%, 516 Votes)
- No (27%, 193 Votes)
Total Voters: 708