All-Ireland champions Tyrone are preparing to fulfil a tall order in more senses than one.
When Mickey Harte’s side go into action against Cork in the All Ireland football championship semi-final on August 23 they will not only be facing a side that many people fancy to succeed them as champions but will find themselves confronting the most imposing midfield pairing in the country.
The 6’5” Nicholas Murphy and 6’1” Alan O’Connor form the Leesiders engine-room and, prior to totally extinguishing any discernible threat from Donegal duo Kevin Cassidy and Brendan Boyle last Sunday, they ruled the roost in the drawn Munster semi-final against Kerry before retaining the upper hand in the replay despite the presence of the normally influential Dara O Se in the Kingdom line-up.
And if Tyrone required any further warning that Cork’s midfield resources pose a giant-sized threat, then it came when manager Conor Counihan indulged in the luxury of withdrawing O’Connor in the second-half against Donegal and sending in 6’7” Michael Cussen.
The Red Hands may have held sway at midfield against Antrim in the Ulster final when Sean Cavanagh was man of the match scoring 1-4 from play on his return to a central berth following his soujourn at full-forward and they also enjoyed a considerable advantage in the middle third against Derry in the semi-final when Kevin Hughes was man of the match.
But against Kildare on Sunday, with Dermot Earley in almost perpetual motion, Tyrone’s dominance was not nearly so marked, particularly in the first-half when the Lily Whites virtually owned the middle ground for a long spell.
Now Tyrone boss Harte must come up with a formula to counter the sheer physical power, mobility and work-rate of the Cork midfield in which the gangling Pearse O’Neill, although stationed on the ‘40’, also lends a considerable hand to his colleagues.
It’s hardly surprising that Harte is anxious to see Enda McGinley complete his recovery from injury so that he can provide what will now be an essential midfield option against Cork.
“Enda felt he might have been close to having some input against Kildare but it was not to be. Certainly we could be doing with him against Cork who obviously are very, very strong at midfield, the area around which their strategy revolves,” admits Harte.
McGinley missed the Ulster final too and although Tyrone have reached the last four of the All Ireland race, Harte acknowledges that a big step-up in performance will be required if they are to hurdle a Cork team that landed 28 scores against Donegal – almost the equivalent of hitting the target every two minutes.
McGinley’s absence from midfield initially prompted Harte to restore Cavanagh to his more traditional engine-room berth even though he had been thriving in the No 14 shirt for the most part.
“Given Cork’s recent track record, we would obviously hope that we will have no injuries in the interim and that we can aim for a peak performance against them. Our display against Kildare would not suffice – we accept that and that’s why we will be working hard in the meantime,” states Harte.