Whoever wins tomorrow’s Ulster football semi-final between Derry and Tyrone at Casement Park (2.00pm) knows that they will be red-hot favourites going into the provincial final against either Cavan or Antrim.
But while neither Derry boss Damian Cassidy nor Tyrone’s Mickey Harte are looking any further than tomorrow’s match, they are both aware of the potential pitfalls their teams face.
While the sides are understandably wary of each other, they know that should both or one of them eventually progress through to the All Ireland semi-finals, a massive hurdle will await them.
The Ulster champions are due to meet the Munster champions this year — in theory. But that could also mean that the Munster champions might find themselves confronting a team that beat the Ulster champions!
With Cork odds-on to lift the Munster crown, this means they will go straight into the All Ireland quarter-finals. And that will certainly present them with the springboard to make a serious bid for the title which has not rested by the banks of the Lee since 1990.
Ironically, Cork completed back-to-back All Ireland titles that year — and that’s just what Tyrone hope to do this year.
And although Cork will be confidently expected to conquer Limerick in the Munster shoot-out on July 5, the emergence of Kerry in the second round of the football Qualifiers will surely convince some people at least not to indulge in rash judgments of Jack O’Connor’s side.
Kerry have already won the All Ireland title through the back door route in the past and although their pride took a battering against Cork last weekend, their hunger to take delivery of Sam again shows no sign of abat
ing. Indeed, the situation could arise where both Cork and Kerry will make their way into the last four — and that would certainly spice up the concluding stages of the competition.
For the moment though, the focus in Ulster is on the destination of the provincial title and although Tyrone are favourites to take the Anglo-Celt Cup from Armagh who have claimed it on seven occasions in the past 10 years, manager Mickey Harte is preaching caution as his team prepare to meet an Oak Leaf side bristling with ambition.
Ironically, neither Derry or Tyrone will be led by their regular skippers tomorrow with the Oak Leaf side missing Fergal Doherty because of suspension and the Red Hands preferring to start the inspirational Brian Dooher from the bench.
But with both sides containing vast experience — Derry boast Kevin McGuckin, Kevin McCloy, Gerard O’Kane, Paddy Bradley and Sean Martin Lockhart among others while Tyrone will lean on Ryan McMenamin, Conor Gormley, Enda McGinley, Sean Cavanagh and Philip Jordan — there will be no lack of leaders out on the park.