Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Red Hands focus on the big prize

The GAA may be burdened by a considerable weight of criticism right now but there is not a murmur of protest on any front from Tyrone.

Protests about fixtures scheduling, jibes at teams such as Donegal who prioritise defence, a passionate reaction to what has been described as a "scandalous" refereeing decision and the loutish behaviour of some fans are detracting from the appeal of the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Kerry midfielder Bryan Sheehan has lashed the championship fixtures itinerary suggesting that it is imbalanced, Wexford skipper David Murphy has won sympathy following his condemnation of referee Derek Fahy for allowing a last-gasp point - it looked a wide - which Limerick scored last weekend and proved to be the winner in a qualifying tie while a section of Roscommon fans have been lambasted on social networking sites for their behaviour during and after the recent Connacht final against Mayo.

And it's on those same Roscommon followers that Tyrone, who have quietly slipped into the last nine of the All-Ireland series and who are now looking much more menacing, aim to heap more agony today at Croke Park.

No team has absorbed the pressures that go with the qualifier route more confidently than Tyrone who played an unprecedented 10 matches before winning their second Sam Maguire in 2005.

So to have played and won two qualifiers against Longford and Armagh and now find themselves in the fourth round with the rich promise of an alluring quarter-final showdown against Dublin next Saturday should they win today is an ideal scenario for Mickey Harte's side.

The Tyrone boss, like others, will surely endorse the sentiments of Kerry ace Sheehan when he proposes what he feels is a better road map for the qualifiers.

Kerry have not played for almost a month and Sheehan feels this detrimental to their cause.

"I don't see why the provincial finals can't be played two one weekend and two the following weekend.

"If teams knew a couple of weeks in advance who they were playing they could probably aim themselves a bit towards that," he said.

"It's only a small detail. In the real world, it's not going to happen. That's the way it is.

"We just have to accept it and just get on with it," explains Sheehan.

Right now of course the remainder of the route to the All-Ireland final is clear-cut.

After this weekend's games it is expected that just five sides will be left standing with the distinct possibility that two of these could be from Ulster.

And Tyrone boss Harte is particularly keen that his side should be in the mix.

It would be, he feels, the perfect riposte to those who earlier suggested his side was ageing and that an All-Ireland title was well beyond their compass.

Harte thrusts an unchanged line-up in against a Roscommon outfit that still has concerns over the fitness of ace forward Senan Kilbride and which has faced only modest opposition to date this year having played in the comparative backwater of Division Four of the National League.

In the Red Hands, they will be facing a side that has grown in confidence and benefited from an infusion of fresh talent while at the same time parading marquee performers such as Conor Gormley, Sean Cavanagh, Philip Jordan, Brian McGuigan and Kevin Hughes.

And with enviable resources on his bench, manager Harte has the ammunition to respond to any situation.

There may be frustration, disenchantment and even a hint of turmoil in several sectors of the GAA but all is radiance and light in Tyrone just now and that glow is expected to be even more pronounced by tea-time.

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