Martin Penrose will be handed a key role when Tyrone seek to breach Donegal’s formidable defensive barrier in Saturday’s Ulster Championship semi-final at Clones.
Penrose, who made the switch from Aghyaran to Carrickmore earlier this year, carries what manager Mickey Harte believes to be two vital assets into the game — blistering pace and an ability to put in big tackles.
The 28-year-old utility forward landed four points, two from frees, when Tyrone overcame Armagh at the quarter-final stage and will now be expected to deploy his assets to even greater effect against a Donegal rearguard that remains as solid as ever.
Penrose has been scoring regularly for Carrickmore but will be asked to drop deeper in a bid to thwart Jim McGuinness’ game plan in a match that is creating tremendous interest throughout the province.
For Penrose, though, his role is not everything — being in the Tyrone side is all that really matters to him.
He was introduced as a substitute in the 2005 Ulster final defeat to Armagh and although he was involved in the team’s subsequent safari through the All-Ireland qualifiers — they played ten games in all — he took no active part in their second All-Ireland victory.
Indeed, few players have had to work harder to copper-fasten their place in the side but Penrose has been reaping the rewards of his patience and endurance of late having initially come to prominence as a member of the 2001 All-Ireland Minor winning side.
“Competition within this Tyrone side is keen even though boys like Sean Cavanagh, Justin McMahon and one or two others are out at the minute. You have to keep on your toes.
“We were well tested by Armagh and Donegal will be an even bigger challenge for us,” says Penrose.
It was at the same stage of the competition last year that Donegal beat the Red Hands and on that occasion Penrose found himself used as a substitute for Owen Mulligan.
This year, he has been the essence of consistency, his strong running, scoring ability and willingness to constantly pressurise opponents underlining his value to the team.
“Mickey Harte expects a high work rate from players and I just get on with it,” warns Penrose.
“We conceded a couple of goals to Donegal in last year’s game and that was our undoing. We will need to keep things tighter on Saturday.
Harte acknowledges that Penrose brings qualities to the table that could prove crucial in Tyrone’s bid to wrest the title from Donegal.
“Martin works very hard on and of the ball. He puts in tackles in key areas of the field and wins the ball back for us. I have always maintained that our defending starts from number fifteen,” maintains Harte.
“He has pace, too, and has shown that he can take a score.
“We will need everyone in the team to step up to the mark for this one.”
With reports suggesting that Brian McGuigan impressed in an in-house match last weekend, there could be an additional ration of experience on the Tyrone subs’ bench for Saturday.