All-Ireland Qualifiers: Consistency key for Tyrone
Tyrone may have borne a heavy burden in terms of injuries for the greater part of this year yet manager Mickey Harte could now find himself confirming an unchanged line-up for the third game in succession.
As he continues to take stock of the minor knocks picked up in his team’s 3-19 to 1-14 win over Roscommon at the weekend, Harte may opt for consistency and for Saturday’s mammoth quarter-final against Dublin at Croke Park he may give a further vote of confidence to the starting personnel who have taken the O’Neill county into the last five in the race to the Sam Maguire Cup.
Just a matter of weeks ago the Tyrone casualty list comprised a host of household names — Enda McGinley, Kevin Hughes, Joe McMahon, John Devine, Justin McMahon, Damien McCaul, Stephen O’Neill and Tommy McGuigan. To compound Harte’s selection worries, Aidan Cassidy and Davy Harte became more recent injury victims.
And another spanner was temporarily lobbed into the works when it was thought that Owen Mulligan had turned his back on the squad.
But gradually the manager’s hand was strengthened, doubtless aided by the fact that the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd can complement the work of physicians and physiotherapists to an enormous degree.
It can also boost egos, fire ambition and convince players that they are maybe better to be rather smaller fish in a big pond than big fish in a puddle.
The upshot is that the qualifier wins over Armagh and Roscommon were achieved via the same starting line-up with a little help from a posse of All-Ireland winning substitutes – a selection cocktail of course that perhaps only Kerry could match.
Against Roscommon 22 players in all including replacements and blood substitutes got game time to varying degrees, their cumulative experience underlining Tyrone’s rich resources right now.
With the bitter taste of that defeat against Donegal in the Ulster semi-final having been erased — the qualifier win over Longford proved the launch pad for their rehabilitation — Tyrone could hardly be in better mental and physical shape to confront the Dubs.
The very fact that victory here would see the Red Hands earn a re-match with Donegal will surely be an extra spur for them to perform to an optimum level.
Tyrone clearly feel they did not do themselves justice in that Ulster semi-final and will believe that they are capable of arresting the provincial champions’ march.
Harte and his trusted assistant Tony Donnelly have long since learned you cannot please all of the people all of the time and
that’s why there will be some disappointed faces when the starting line-up for the most glamorous match of the year is confirmed.
It can be safely assumed that the combined attendance for both double quarter-finals bills last week-end (39, 612 and 22,400) will be surpassed when Tyrone seek to retain the upper hand they have gained over Dublin in the championship since Mickey Harte took command in 2002.
But the Red Hands boss, despite his side’s convincing form over the past month, remains just as cautious as he was going into the game against Roscommon.
“People did not give Roscommon enough respect. We were definitely not eleven points better than them,” observed Harte.
“They played very well especially in the first-half. We know that Dublin will be very much up for this game. They are the Leinster champions, they will have massive support and they have been improving all the time.
“That’s the kind of backdrop any team wants going into a match of this magnitude.”