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Conall McCann determined to help Tyrone oust Armagh

 

By John Campbell

Tyrone midfield dynamo Conall McCann may still be a relative novice in terms of his participation in championship football but the 24-year-old Killyclogher clubman is already hot-footing it to more honours.

A second Ulster Championship gong has already come his way along with a Dr McKenna Cup medal in Tyrone's colours as well as a Sigerson Cup winner's medal with St Mary's University College, but McCann is hoping that there is more to come.

It's precisely because he did not taste really top-flight action last year that he's determined to see the O'Neill county go all the way this time round if possible.

When manager Mickey Harte paired McCann with the vastly more experienced Colm Cavanagh at midfield for Tyrone's provincial championship opener against Derry back in May, there were those who thought he was taking a big gamble.

After all, it was McCann's first championship start and he could hardly have anticipated a more competitive environment.

But his stellar performance merely provided further confirmation he had much to offer and cemented the belief that Harte was virtually engulfed in selection options as he targeted back-to-back Ulster titles.

Now that this goal has been achieved, McCann is desperate to see Tyrone come good against Armagh on Saturday - and not just because it will see them book an All-Ireland semi-final place.

"We are glad to be going back to Croke Park and to be at the same stage of the All-Ireland series we were at this time last year," reflected McCann.

"We did not really perform against Mayo on that occasion so our target this year to date has been to get back there. We now have a chance to set what happened a year ago right. Mayo went on to take Dublin to a replay in the All-Ireland final so this just shows you that we weren't that far away considering we only lost to them by a point."

McCann believes the fact that Tyrone have automatically gained their place in the quarter-finals by virtue of retaining their Ulster title will stand to them.

"It's good that we have been able to come straight through to this stage without having to worry about the qualifiers but at the same time this guarantees us nothing," insists McCann.

Along with his brother, wing-half-back Tiernan, he helps to instil a dynamism within the Tyrone side that has helped to underpin manager Mickey Harte's expansive attacking strategy. Nor did the duo pick their desire for success up off the stones, as they say. Their father Terry represented Tyrone in both football and hurling and won an All-Ireland junior championship hurling medal in 1996.

On Saturday, Conall will come up against the rapidly-maturing Armagh midfield pair of Stephen Sheridan and Niall Grimley.

Manager Kieran McGeeney's decision to allow the pairing to knit into a forceful unit has proven a master stroke, with Grimley providing the bonus of morphing into a top-calibre free-taker.

It was in the Round 3B qualifier win over Tipperary (1-17 to 1-15) that Grimley proved a central figure by hitting eight points, two of which came from play, a scoring feat which underlined his immense value to the team.

He is likely to go head to head with McCann in what will be a battle between two of the most promising engine-room operators in the country. Indeed, just how this particular set-to pans out might well influence the outcome of what is being termed a 'neighbourly war'.

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