Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Tyrone-Donegal may be aperitif before the Championship but there's a title to be won

There is a school of comedy that somehow dictates that repetition is a powerful trigger for laughter. Phrases such as 'computer says no', 'loadsamoney' and 'brilliant' are instantly forgettable in their own right, but when you have David Walliams, Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield bludgeoning you with them over and over and over every week, they encourage behaviour patterns last spotted among Pavlov's Dogs.

With that in mind, I don't mind being 'that guy' who peddles the same statistic over and over again from the league campaign. It's been used before on these pages, but this Sunday Tyrone, under Mickey Harte (pictured), will play their 14th match of the season. In any player interview, their team and manager talk of how they go out to compete and win each and every time they take to the field.

From the early days of the McKenna Cup, they have been beaten only twice.

There is a stark contrast in that compared to how Donegal have treated the last few months. While Tyrone got up to speed fairly quickly, Donegal were only getting over the motion-sickness brought on by planes, trains and camel rides in Dubai.

Some players have thrived in the 2013 set-up, others have fallen through the cracks. During the McKenna Cup, Kevin Gallagher looked to be a serious addition but after starting the first league game against Down, he has not been granted any more game minutes. Johnny Lafferty has faded from view and Michael Murphy started against Donegal, but has now left the panel.

The evolution of this Tyrone team has some elements of trial and error, and that job is broadly along similar lines to what Jim Gavin has achieved with Dublin, before both teams contest a fascinating league final this Sunday.

While Ciaran Kilkenny and Jack McCaffrey are now fully-integrated into the Dublin senior set-up, they also benefit from the return of Michael Fitzsimons, James McCarthy, Kevin Nolan and Rory O'Carroll, who played against Galway in a challenge match last Saturday night.

The one game they lost was against Tyrone, but even then an asterix could be inserted beside that result as Bernard Brogan was rested. The emergence of Paul Mannion, Jason Whelan and the rejuvenation of Paddy Andrews has ensured Dublin has more attacking talent than perhaps they considered before this campaign.

Here is the rub though – Tyrone's need to win is huge. Last season they blitzed Division Two before flopping in the final against a mediocre Kildare.

They cannot afford another pre-Championship slump like it. No wonder this will be a league final with a difference – the teams competing will actually care.

Their expressions afterwards may try and throw you off the scent, but to carry a league title into the Championship will be a confidence boost they cannot do without.

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