No player typifies Tyrone’s approach to the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup better than Martin Penrose.
The Red Hands baptism in the competition may have been delayed but Aghyaran clubman Penrose, scorer of 1-6 in the two wins over Donegal and Fermanagh, has helped to rap out the message loud and clear that his side have the trophy very much in their sights.
Mickey Harte’s team will go in against UUJ at Healy Park, Omagh tomorrow night as warm favourites to complete their Section A programme with a third successive victory thus claiming a semi-final place.
And Penrose, a revelation in the side last year after striving for a considerable time to nail down a regular berth, stresses that there is a “united front” within the squad which suggests that the first piece of silverware on offer in 2011 could come their way.
“Obviously the tragic death of Michaela McAreavey had a profound affect on us all and for a while football was the last thing on our minds. But the presence of Mickey Harte at our opening match against Donegal gave us a great lift and then when we beat Fermanagh on Wednesday night our confidence increased a little further,” says 29-year-old.
“Now we will be going in against UUJ tomorrow night expected to win but we know they have a lot of quality players and a very capable manager in Adrian McGuckin.”
If Penrose and Sean Cavanagh have been very much to the fore in the scoring stakes for Tyrone so far — the side has landed 3-24 in their two games — then Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone) and Conor McManus (Monaghan) made a big impression for UUJ in the drawn game against Fermanagh last weekend.
Donnelly was man of the match and can expect to be carefully policed by a Red Hands defence that could see Ryan McMenamin and Dermot Carlin restored. It is a measure of the strength in depth that the Tyrone management have at their disposal that they could afford to make eight changes to their starting line-up for Wednesday’s game and still triumph by 2-11 to 0-11.
And yet established players like Joe McMahon, Philip Jordan, Justin McMahon and Owen Mulligan have not kicked a ball for the side this year!
Penrose encapsulates the feeling within the entire squad when he says: “We are all aware that competition for places is very keen. Some established players have still to come back and there are a number of younger players still turning out with their universities who will be returning. Things will really hot up then.”
While Tyrone are expected to glide through to a February 12 semi-final, their opponents on that occasion might well be surprise packet Cavan who, having already beaten Queen’s and Monaghan, will await the outcome of tomorrow night’s matches aware that their chances of finishing as best fourth-placed side are reasonably good.