Skipper leading drive to rekindle Red Hand fortunes against Cavan
The Ulster Championship can prove an intimidating journey for even the best prepared, fittest and most positive of teams.
Imagine, then, the depressing backcloth that shrouds Saturday’s quarter-final meeting between Tyrone and Cavan at O’Neill’s Healy Park, Omagh (4.30pm).
The Red Hands are still coming to terms with that shattering 6-15 to 1-14 defeat to Kerry in their Allianz League Division One semi-final while Cavan, having been crowned proud Ulster champions last December, will now arrive at O’Neill’s Healy Park as new – and very reluctant – residents of Division Four.
It’s all in rather sharp contrast to the optimism that prevailed in both camps prior to last year’s provincial series.
But although Donegal’s crushing defeat of Down is already being interpreted as an indicator of just where the title might end up, new Tyrone skipper Padraig Hampsey is taking a more pragmatic view of the Championship scene.
“I don’t feel that we will be under any extra pressure going into this match,” pointed out Hampsey. “There is no doubt that our recent game in Killarney was a tough day at the office for us. Kerry were very ruthless in their attacking play and I suppose you could say that we did not show up on the day.”
Yet rather than harbour inhibitions going into Saturday’s contest, Tyrone see it as an opportunity to regain credibility and a chance to perhaps trigger a run in the Championship.
“We have had a huge input in training over the past few weeks since the Kerry game. It helps that a lot of the players who are in the side now had built up a relationship with the current management team of Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher when they were in charge of the team that won the All-Ireland Under-21 title in 2015,” revealed Hampsey.
With Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte, Ronan McNamee and Niall Morgan among those providing experience within the side, Hampsey is benefiting from considerable encouragement in his role as skipper.
“We are fortunate to have players of this stature in our side and the forwards in particular will have a big role to play against Cavan. We have looked carefully at how we played against Kerry and have reassessed things,” stated Coalisland clubman Hampsey.
The battle for starting places in the Tyrone side has hotted up for a match that the team simply cannot afford to lose They may have retained their slot in Division One of the Allianz League but the management team of Logan and Dooher have had their sights on the Ulster Championship since they succeeded Mickey Harte.
“The competition for places is such that everyone is on their toes and wants to be part of the action. That’s the way it should be, of course. Tyrone is a proud football county and we certainly want to do ourselves justice on Saturday. We have put the Kerry game out of our minds and obviously this meeting with Cavan is a whole new ball game,” insisted Hampsey.
The skipper will be a key figure in a defence that could face difficulties against a lively Cavan attack in which experienced trio Gearoid McKiernan, Martin Reilly and Conor Madden could prove key figures, while Padraig Faulkner is once again expected to be the Breffni side’s defensive lynch-pin.
Faulkner’s leadership skills proved inspirational last year but he is now in no doubt in relation to the potentially bleak scenario that confronts his team this weekend.
“It’s like this, if we lose to Tyrone on Saturday it will mean that it’s possibly one of the worst years in Cavan football for a long, long time,” stated Faulkner.