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How Tyrone full-back McNamee can provide the answer against reigning champions Dublin

 

Rock solid: Tyrone will need Ronan McNamee to be a defensive pillar for them against Dublin
Rock solid: Tyrone will need Ronan McNamee to be a defensive pillar for them against Dublin
Danger man: Paul Mannion
John Campbell

By John Campbell

In a season to date which has seen several high-profile Tyrone players festooned with effusive praise, the spotlight may now focus on a player deemed to be one of the most efficient journeymen defenders in the country.

Since the Red Hands opened their Championship campaign three months ago, Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte and Cathal McShane have rarely been out of the limelight - and rightly so.

It was in that opening game against Derry at Healy Park, Omagh that Tyrone's stubborn spirit initially manifested itself when the side eventually squeezed the lifeblood from their opponents.

It's a characteristic that has stood the Red Hands in good stead since then, particularly in a five match unbeaten surge through the All-Ireland qualifiers and Super8s that has seen Longford, Kildare, Cavan, Roscommon and Cork brought to heel.

But while the team's stellar forwards are ready to unveil their many-sided talents against Dublin on Sunday, it's the Red Hand defence that may be asked to field pertinent questions in relation to their efficiency and durability.

And in this respect it's commanding full-back Ronan McNamee who looks capable of playing a big part in providing the necessary answers.

The Dublin attack has been on fire recently with a battery of players including Paul Mannion, Niall Scully, Cormac Costello, Con O'Callaghan, Dean Rock and Ciaran Kilkenny sharing in a scoring blitz of volcanic intensity.

But while the All-Ireland champion's frontline foot soldiers will enter Healy Park intent on embellishing their impressive Championship scoring statistics to date, McNamee will be very much to the fore of a defiant home guard that intends to yield little, irrespective of the status of the game.

"I think we are a match for most teams when we have our house in order," he maintains with considerable understatement.

"The fact that we are at home on this occasion should help us. The challenge for us is to get off to a good start and try and keep Dublin in check."

In a match in which both teams are expected to choose adventure over caution given that their places in the semi-finals are secure, McNamee's brief will be to oversee the imposition of restrictions on Dublin's attacking armoury.

For a player who is certainly within sight of an All-Star, that will be a task well within his compass.

Some of the best forwards in the country, including Roscommon's Conor Cox and Brian Hurley of Cork, have been rendered all but impotent from open play by the granite-like McNamee's suffocating marking, but the Aghyaran clubman is nonetheless fully aware that the Dubs attack is so well greased and oiled that it can normally operate successfully in the face of any perceived restrictions.

"They are extremely fast, then can vary their play and take scores from anywhere. I know people are saying that there may not be a great deal at stake but Jim Gavin will not want to lose a Championship match. But, then again, neither will Mickey Harte," points out McNamee.

While Dublin's old guard - the likes of Stephen Cluxton, Philly McMahon and Michael Darragh MacAuley - continue to shape their team's destiny, McNamee and his comrades in arms at the back aim to ensure that the reigning champions will not gain a further measure of comfort at their expense.

Meanwhile, efforts are being stepped up in Monaghan, Derry and Fermanagh to fill the managerial vacancies created by the departures of Malachy O'Rourke, Damian McErlain and Rory Gallagher respectively.

It is understood that in all three cases the county boards are keen to facilitate appointments so that the newcomers will have maximum time in which to prepare for the 2020 season.

Even though veterans Vinny Corey and Dessie Mone have indicated that they will make themselves available again for Monaghan, and several established Derry players are believed to be ready to commit to the cause once more, this should not be allowed to disguise the fact that a considerable volume of work will have to be undertaken in all three counties if they are to make their presence felt next term.

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