Conan Grugan is ready to grab Red Hands chance
Conan Grugan and Stephen O'Neill will prop up Tyrone's bid for Ulster title glory when they meet Monaghan tomorrow – although they will do so from sharply contrasting backgrounds.
Frustration was the name of the game for young Omagh St Enda's player Grugan last year when he remained beneath the Tyrone radar, manager Mickey Harte having sufficient resources that took his side as far as the All-Ireland semi-finals in which they were beaten by Mayo.
But when he was afforded game time in the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup earlier this year, Grugan formed an effective partnership with Niall McKenna.
Injury subsequently disrupted his season but now Conor Clarke's cruciate ligament setback has opened the door for Grugan to make his Ulster Championship debut against Monaghan.
"I was delighted to get my opportunity in the McKenna Cup and although the manager has had other options, I was hoping that I might get a chance when Championship time came round," reflects Grugan.
"I am very sorry that Conor Clarke is out but now that I have got my chance I hope to make the most of it. It's great to be going in there alongside Colm Cavanagh who has been playing really well and I just hope that I can help Tyrone to reach the semi-finals.
"I'm really focused on staying in there especially after last year when I didn't get any game time.
"It was great to get four games under my belt in January – that was the big stepping-stone.
"We all knew that after the McKenna Cup we had a lot of improving to do but the team has made progress."
Veteran O'Neill, meanwhile, returns to his familiar role at full-forward, anxious to boost Tyrone's bid to claim more honours in the twilight of his glittering career.
He was replaced by Ronan O'Neill in the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo and since then has sampled only a limited diet of inter-county action.
But having made an impact when introduced as a substitute in the two Championship matches against Down, the former skipper gets the nod from manager Harte to show his paces from the outset.
"It's terrific to be in from the start against a Monaghan side obviously very keen to keep their Ulster title," says O'Neill.
"They have a lot of experienced players and I just hope that we can play to our full potential. This won't be an easy game by any means," points out O'Neill.