Tyrone set for battle amid wave of emotion
UUJ President John Farrell has sent a message of encouragement to Tyrone in advance of tonight’s Section A Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup meeting between the sides at Healy Park, Omagh (7.30).
Farrell, a founding father of the now flourishing UUJ club and a dynamic force in Ulster football, concedes that this will be a “particularly difficult” match for the Red Hands in the immediate aftermath of the huge outpouring of grief at the funeral of Michaela McAreavey on Monday.
“Up until we first heard the news of Michaela’s tragic death we all, if we are honest, thought that football was maybe the be all and end all of everything,” says Farrell.
“We now know for absolute certain that this is far from being the case. We have a situation tonight where players from both teams, but from Tyrone in particular, will be going into a match with heavy hearts.”
But he believes that the match will offer the Red Hands followers the chance to bond with their players again — the team has not played a competitive game since they were beaten by Dublin in the All-Ireland championship last August.
“I think that the atmosphere will be hugely emotional, that’s totally understandable,” he added.
“Tyrone people have been through an awful lot this past week or so, particularly those who were close to Michaela like the players, officials and many of the fans.
“We have shared their grief but maybe we cannot really experience their pain.
“Maybe tonight though when the game gets under way they will have the chance to really rally round and although we are their opponents, I genuinely wish them well.
“It takes character and courage to face into a game such as this given the backdrop against which it will be played.”
Three Tyrone players — Jason McAnulla, Diarmuid McNulty and Peter Hughes — could be in the UUJ starting line-up although manager Adrian McGuckin, who saw his side taste defeat in their opening game to Donegal on Saturday night, has yet to confirm this.
For McAnulla, tonight will be an interesting test. A final year physiotherapy student, he opted to play for UUJ in the McKenna Cup rather than for Tyrone for whom he was also selected because he is just now undertaking examinations and is remaining in Belfast to allow him to focus on his studies.
McAnulla, who scored three points against Donegal, is expected to re-join Tyrone for the National League next month.
Red Hands assistant manager Tony Donnelly is expected to be in charge of the side tonight along with trainer Fergal McCann — it is not known if Mickey Harte will be present in any capacity — and the line-out may not deviate much from that initially selected by Harte to do duty against Fermanagh last Sunday prior to the match being called off by the Ulster council.
This means that many of Tyrone’s experienced corps including Sean Cavanagh, Conor Gormley, Brian McGuigan, Martin Penrose and Ryan McMenamin will be in action against a Jordanstown side that is seeking a fillip in the build-up to the forthcoming Sigerson Cup competition. Meanwhile, in the other Section A game tonight Donegal will host Fermanagh at Ballybofey looking for their second win in succession.
Fermanagh manager John O’Neill will make his competitive baptism tonight.
He will assess a number of new young players he has brought in. Donegal boss Jim McGuinness will again look to Leo McLoone, Adrian Hanlon and Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy to replicate the scoring form they showed against UUJ while Karl Lacey and Frank McGlynn will add solidity to their defence.