Tyrone captain Stephen O’Neill has flashed a strong warning to Armagh that he has rediscovered his shooting boots at just the right time.
O’Neill missed portion of the Allianz League because of a hamstring injury but returned in the latter stages of the competition.
And while he has made only fleeting appearances for his club Clan na gael lately, the veteran sharpshooter underlined his sublime scoring touch when he pocketed 2-4 against Aghyaran in a local derby two weeks ago.
It’s a return that is particularly pleasing to Red Hands boss Mickey Harte who will look to O’Neill’s experience and craft to steer his side to victory on Sunday.
O’Neill’s return to form coincided with a first win of the season for Clan na gael — they had suffered four defeats on the trot up until then — and the player himself is hoping that this proves a good omen as he prepares to lead Tyrone for the first time in a championship contest.
“It was good to get a full match with the club under my belt and I was lucky enough that I was able to take a few chances,” said O’Neill. “You can be sure that we won’t be getting much time and space against the Armagh defence on Sunday.
“They will be very difficult to break down especially on their home ground.”
A triple All-Ireland winner, O’Neill secured the first of these honours when he was introduced as a substitute in the 2003 final against Kerry but was reluctant to accept his medal two years later because injury had precluded him from full involvement in Tyrone’s campaign.
Indeed, few players have endured the number of injury setbacks which have inflicted O’Neill during his lengthy playing career yet he has always managed to bounce back.
Over recent years he has formed a dynamic inside line partnership with the flamboyant Owen Mulligan and while the pair will be perceived as a major threat to Armagh’s defensive stability, O’Neill suggests that Paddy O’Rourke’s side will be more than familiar with their style of play.
“I know that there might be a few new players on view from both sides but I don’t think that there will be any element of surprise,” observes O’Neill.
“There have been some great games between Armagh and Tyrone over the past number of years and hopefully this will prove another thrilling spectacle.
“These are the kind of games you work so hard to be a part of.”
O’Neill though has only been taking a limited part in Tyrone training to date as the management are taking every precaution to ensure his fitness for Sunday.
Michael Murphy too has come back to form at just the right time. He went in as a substitute for his club Galbally against Stewartstown and scored 1-2 thus bolstering his confidence as he pursues a midfield berth against Armagh.
But his ongoing groin injury is still a source of discomfort to the Galbally man who is highly rated in Tyrone.
It is understood that he is being monitored very closely in training and manager Harte is keen he should be fully fit given that his midfield options are now more limited.