Sports

Stiff competition for places ahead of Dubs Croker clash.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Stiff competition for places ahead of Dubs Croker clash. thumbnail Tyrone's Colm Cavanagh is expected to be fit for the semi final clash with Dublin.

THE competition for starting places in Tyrone has never been so ferocious as it is right now.

Fringe players are busting a gut to earn the precious nod from manager Mickey Harte, and making remarkably high levels of impact off the bench during the Red Hand run to the All-Ireland semi-final.

Yet there's no rancour or unrest to be found within a highly motivated and fiercely united squad.

Players fighting for the same jersey, far from engaging in mutual antagonism, are offering support and encouragement to their 'rival' in a quite remarkable environment of harmony.

Ronan O'Neill came on as a sub to shatter the Mourne dream with two delightful goals in the Ulster final, while teenager David Mulgrew did likewise with two memorable strikes in the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat of Armagh at Croke Park.

Two attackers of exceptional talent would both make most county teams, but Tyrone can afford the luxury of holding the pair in reserve.

Even in dealing with the disappointment of failing to make the starting fifteen, Tyrone's squad men remain in a state of high alert, watching intently from beyond the sideline, studying for ways that they could make a difference if given the chance before the day is out.

And their engagement with each other is enlightening. On the night before the All-Ireland quarter-final, O'Neill and Mulgrew roomed together.

Two men who felt they were good enough to start, probably one at the expense of the other, but each prepared to offer unconditional support whatever the call during the heat of battle.

"I roomed with him, and I told him, have a good attitude if you get in there, and make sure that you show why you should have been playing, and obviously he did," O'Neill revealed.

As they approach a much stiffer proposition in the form of All-Ireland champions Dublin, the mentality will remain steadfastly the same.

It's all about the collective in the Tyrone camp. It's a cold house for egos, but an utterly welcoming place for the brilliant individual talent and the attitude that has been painstakingly nurtured and developed at Garvaghey.

O'Neill recognises that the arrival of 19-year-old Ardboe lad Mulgrew may well push himself further down the pecking order, but the greater good trumps personal ambition.

"His pace is frightening. He's an unbelievable talent and he was probably hard done-by, not starting the last day. And he came in and showed why he should be playing, which is a good sign." This year Tyrone have been racking up big scoring tallies, developing the offensive side of their game while maintaining a solid, stubborn defensive structure.

"We have had a defensive structure over the past couple of years, but over the past 18 months we have worked on our attacking transition," said O'Neill.

"Listen, we have a lot of boys who can put the ball over the bar, and it doesn't matter who puts it over, as long as we keep putting it cover and keep cutting down on our mistakes, and every time we go forward, we put the ball dead or put the ball over the bar.

"Because it kills us when it doesn't happen. I think it happened a few times in the first half (against Armagh), and a few times in the second half, we just we re n't killing the opportunities that were there. And I know the next day we need to take those ones." O'Neill scored a cheeky lobbed goal against Down in the Ulster final, but an attempt to do it again at Croke Park against Armagh failed to come off, slipping narrowly wide.

"I just saw it and thought maybe I'd go for it again, maybe I should have drilled it, but those things happen," he said.

But he accepts that it will be much tougher against the all-conquering Dubs on Sunday week.

He believes Armagh's intense run of matches through the Qualifiers may have caught up with them when they reached GAA Headquarters, where they suffered a heavy 18 points beating at the hands of Tyrone.

"You have to take into account the fact that they had been on the road for a few weeks, and maybe just couldn't get to that level again.

"We were hungry, we hadn't been out for three weeks, we were looking forward to the game, we knew where their strengths lay and we tried to counteract that.

"We expected a wee bit more of them, but maybe Kildare didn't bring the same intensity as we did into the tackle, and Kildare didn't really play a defensive structure.

They left Jamie Clarke one on one inside.

"Maybe they were surprised, maybe they thought that it might have been a wee bit more open, but our boys did a job in there, getting turnovers, which was a good sign for us." Midfielder Colm Cavanagh is expected to be fit to face the Dubs, after suffering a hip injury in the quarter-final.

He had to go off late on due to a heavy collision with Armagh defender Brendan Donaghy, and has been forced to limit his involvement in training.

Dublin will be appearing in the semi-final for eighth successive season; Kerry and Mayo will be in their seventh successive semi-finals while Tyrone were last there in 2015.

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