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Tyrone's Michael McKernan set to face toughest test after rapid rise

 

By John Campbell

This time last year, Michael McKernan was a virtual unknown, ploughing a mundane furrow with his club Coalisland Fianna.

But right now the 20-year-old defender is preparing to face some of the truly outstanding forwards of the modern era as Tyrone bid to try and dislodge champions Dublin from their comfortable seat on the All-Ireland throne.

Yet McKernan's participation in the showpiece game of the year looked to be clouded in doubt when he was shown a black card in just the fifth minute of his team's All-Ireland quarter-final phase two victory over Donegal at Ballybofey earlier this month.

Rory Brennan was pitched in as substitute and acquitted himself well in the victory, but McKernan was restored by manager Mickey Harte for the semi-final win over Monaghan, and his performance in that game has reinforced his confidence for what he views as an enormous personal challenge on Sunday against the defending champions.

"Dublin possess some of the best forwards in the country and obviously they will be out to pose problems for us," concedes McKernan.

Such are the complexities of tactics in the modern game that only mere guesswork on the part of even well-informed pundits could determine just who McKernan's immediate opponent might be in the Croke Park showdown.

But whether it's Dean Rock, Cormac Costello or even Con O'Callaghan, McKernan acknowledges that he will have his hands full given the pace, versatility and finishing skills of their forward division - not to forget their armoury on the bench.

"We knew after the win over Monaghan in the semi-final that we would have to improve, and we hope to show on Sunday that we have done that," points out McKernan.

"Dublin have quality forwards in particular, and it does not matter who you are marking, it is always going to be a tough task.

"We know that they as a team can play at a different level so the intensity will be fierce.

"We are going to have to go flat out for the full 70 odd minutes if we are to beat these boys," he says.

McKernan's enthusiasm, commitment and optimism are shared by his colleagues, to the extent that, while Tyrone are composed, poised and comfortable within themselves, there is not the slightest element of over-confidence or arrogance about what they've done.

"I watched Tyrone lose to Dublin last year never thinking that I would be in the side this year, and now I want to make the most of my chance to help the side along," he says.

"Mickey Harte has given me my big chance and I want to try and repay him on Sunday for the faith he has shown in me in my county career to date," adds McKernan.

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