Can Tyrone go all the way and win All Ireland again?
For the best part of this year to date we have been regaled with the theory that it is ‘Cork’s turn’ to win the All Ireland Football Championship title.
And it is perhaps easy to pinpoint this theory’s origins. Conor Counihan’s side did not do themselves justice in last year’s All Ireland final against Kerry but they showed consistency in the National League and although beaten by Kerry in a Munster semi-final replay their physicality, pace and scoring power allied to the experience they have amassed over the past two years in particular served to thrust them into pole position for ‘Sam’.
Kerry, on the other hand, despite having won the Munster crown, are not perceived to be the force they were because they have lost a shoal of leading players — Tadgh Kennelly, Tommy Walsh, Dara O Sé, Mike McCarthy and Diarmuid Murphy.
But suddenly the All Ireland landscape has undergone a transformation. A Tyrone side — previously labelled tired, lacking in ambition and supposedly containing too many players past their sell-by date — has emphatically cocked a snook at the critics and given rise to the belief that they may yet land a fourth All Ireland crown under the capable baton of Mickey Harte.
Big question is — CAN they do this?
The answer has to be in the affirmative.
For a start, Harte now has rich playing resources at his disposal — and this is despite the fact that Aidan Cassidy, Ciaran Gourley, Damien McCaul and Stephen O’Neill are currently injured.
The GAA may seek to impose its own limitations on the numerical strength of county panels but Harte (pictured) makes no bones about the fact that he has 38 players in his squad.
And what’s more, he insists that right now anger, pride and ambition fashion their overall approach to the remainder of the All Ireland Championship series.
“We have four long-term injuries and this means that we have 34 players chasing 15 places and that’s good,” said Harte, the most driven of managers.
“These players were angry when their hunger was questioned earlier in the year and this has actually proved a spur for them.
“In the championship they have re-captured the pride they lost in the National League and now they are very keen to build further on the progress they have made by maybe winning the All Ireland title but that will be far from easy.”
Experience, craft, physicality and top-class finishing have transported Tyrone from being an uncertain, under-performing outfit in the League to a cohesive, energetic and almost frighteningly focussed side in the Championship.
A defence with Conor Gormley and Justin McMahon as its central pillars that leaks little, a hard-working midfield of Colm Cavanagh and Kevin Hughes and an attack that embodies some of the best finishers in the country in Sean Cavanagh, Owen Mulligan and inspirational skipper Brian Dooher combine to underpin an overall unit that is now just three wins away from immortality.
Cork, Kerry, Dublin and Kildare are among the teams rated capable of being able to fire out an even more defiant message than they have done to date in relation to the destination of the All Ireland title.
But given the mean mood and inherent craving for more success that have totally enveloped this reinvigorated Tyrone squad it would perhaps be wise not to bet against ‘Sam’ taking up residence in the O’Neill county once again.