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Rising star Bradley urges Tyrone to click through gears

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By John Campbell

The Ulster Senior Football Championship is justifiably hailed as one of the outstanding annual competitions in either of the two main codes under the GAA banner.

Now it would seem that Ulster has launched a successful takeover bid for branding rights for the All-Ireland Qualifiers.

The Round 2B draw has suddenly thrown up a spectacular menu of province-based action with Tyrone confronting Meath, Derry hosting Wexford and Armagh taking on Galway.

With all three Ulster counties having home advantage, the GAA are assured of an unexpected massive cash windfall.

When Donegal and Derry met on Saturday in the Ulster semi-final, almost 20,000 fans flooded through the turnstiles at St Tiarnach's Park, Clones and the forthcoming qualifier itinerary is expected to see this huge level of crowd support maintained.

Tyrone will now seek to further embellish their fine record in the All-Ireland qualifiers - they have won 23 games in 26 starts in the competition - when they host a Meath side that are harbouring grievous psychological hurt following their inexplicable second-half collapse against Westmeath in the Leinster Championship on Sunday.

And for the emerging Mark Bradley, who transformed Tyrone's fortunes when he was introduced as a substitute against Limerick, the confrontation with Meath offers the prospect of cementing a starting place in the side.

"I think the fact that we had a six-week wait after our Ulster Championship defeat to Donegal before going into action in the qualifiers maybe explains why we looked a bit rusty on Sunday," suggested Bradley, one of the heroes of Tyrone's recent All-Ireland U21 triumph.

"But we prepared as hard for that game as we did for our Ulster Championship preliminary round tie.

"We maybe took time to settle but we were still able to close out the game, which was important."

And Bradley is in no doubt that Meath will come to Healy Park, Omagh strongly focused on making amends for their dramatic fall from grace in Leinster.

"We know that we can improve on our performance against Limerick. Indeed, we must improve," he added.

"The game was cagey, certainly in the early stages but it is still good to have got that win under our belts.

"This gives us a bit of confidence going forward and we know what to expect when Meath come to us.

"Their pride will be hurt by what happened in that second-half against Westmeath and they will be very keen to get back on track again."

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte has already fully dissected his team's performance against Limerick and insists that it will take a significant step up if they are to get past Meath.

"We were not ourselves for the first 50 minutes or so against Limerick and we can't afford to be like that against Meath," pointed out Harte.

"The players tried their best but little things did not come off for them. Limerick were able to mount attacks and get shots at our goal.

"Having said that, I suppose it's good to have worked through an uncomfortable period of a game and come out on the other side but at the same time we have to be able to keep our concentration and our momentum going for the entire game."

Harte now finds himself with interesting selection dilemmas as his team begin to nose into the All-Ireland title equation.

There is no doubt that a win over Meath would consign that Ulster Championship setback against Donegal further onto the back burner.

Not only did Bradley leave an indelible impression against Limerick but Rory Brennan took another step towards becoming a regular in the side while Ronan O'Neill made an encouraging return at centre-half-forward having been afforded only limited game time in the recent past.

Tyrone's victory, indeed, was achieved at the end of a week in which Harte had cause to lament the fact that several players had drifted away from his squad.

But with seasoned campaigners such as Joe McMahon and Conor Clarke returning to the fray as substitutes in the clash against Limerick, it's hardly surprising that Harte is now dwelling on the positives as he sets out his stall for the visit of Meath.

"It's great to have got over our opening qualifying game, especially as we had such a long wait before seeing action again after the Donegal match," declared Harte.

"Now there will be a tremendous appetite on the part of everyone for this match against Meath. Every team wants to still be involved in Championship action in high summer and we are certainly no exception."

Meath's remarkable defeat at the hands of Westmeath on Sunday in one of the best games in the championship overall to date was a major shock given that the Royal County had been expected to sail through into a Leinster final showdown against Dublin.

Belfast Telegraph


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