New Tyrone county board chairman Ciaran McLaughlin has expressed the hope that the Sam Maguire Cup will come to the county for the fourth time next year - and his New Year wish has coincided with an assertion by his Kerry counterpart Jerome Conway that retaining the All-Ireland title will be “extremely difficult” for his Kingdom side.
McLaughlin, who has impressed in his role as chairman of the Tyrone Central Competitions Control Committee lately, has already outlined his targets as he settles into the top office and the recapture of ‘Sam’ tops his shopping list.
“We reached the All-Ireland semi-final this year and with a little more luck we might have made it into the final. Maybe it could be our turn again in 2010,” says McLaughlin.
Conway has articulated his fears that the defection of players to Australian Rules, further retirements and potential injuries could impact on the Kingdom’s chances of extending their reign as All-Ireland champions.
“We have lost Tadgh Kennelly and Tommy Walsh to Australian Rules, we don’t know the position in relation to players like Dara O Se, Mike McCarthy and Aidan O’Mahoney and we also have to acknowledge that teams like Tyrone will be very keen to take the trophy from us. It is going to be very difficult for us without a doubt,” maintains Conway.
Tyrone will certainly not be at full strength for some time yet as Sean Cavanagh, Ryan Mellon, Colm Cavanagh and Philip Jordan are still recovering from surgery, Owen Mulligan is involved in Cookstown’s ongoing bid to land the All-Ireland Intermediate Club title, several squad members will be involved with their universities in the forthcoming Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup and some others are taking a break from the sport.
Nonetheless, manager Mickey Harte has already set his sights on reclaiming the Sam Maguire Cup which Tyrone won in 2003, 2005 and 2008.
Harte said: “I would have to say that we were very disappointed to lose to Cork in the semi-final this year. But a New Year represents a fresh challenge to us all and while I note that the Kerry chairman is maybe playing down his team’s chances in a sense, we all know that when push comes to shove Kerry will be in there with a big chance.
“We ourselves would not be losing sight of the fact that other teams will also be in the equation and it will be our aim to treat everyone with equal respect.”
Meanwhile, with the appointment of Ger O'Loughlin as Mike McNamara's replacement as Clare hurling manager expected to be rubber-stamped at county convention tonight, the process of piecing together the new backroom team can begin in earnest.
Several names have already been linked with the post. Former senior manager Cyril Lyons, who was a selector on this year's U-21 All-Ireland winning side, has been linked with O'Loughlin as have other hugely respected figures in the county such as Brian Lohan, Seanie McMahon, Liam Doyle and Jamsie O'Connor. However, Lyons was part of the management team that was recently ratified to continue with the county's U-21 team and remains an outsider.
The new management's first order of business will be to assess the availability of Tony Griffin for the new season. The Ballyea man made himself unavailable for 2010 when the row erupted, citing work and issues with McNamara's management as his primary reasons for walking away.