Tyrone ready to embrace the unknown

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

AN adventure like no other begins for Tyrone this weekend as the first ever All-Ireland Super 8s descends on Croke Park.
The Red Hands take on Roscommon in the first of three quarter-final round robin games which will also see them face Dublin and Donegal.
Having played their way through all four rounds of the Qualifiers, Mickey Harte's side is battle-hardened and ready for a fresh challenge and a change of direction.
The games have been coming thick and fast, draining and demanding on players in the searing summer heat, but Tyrone have serious momentum on their side, and GAA Headquarters is a place where they love to express themselves.
Roscommon were highly impressive in their victory over Armagh last weekend, wining a richly entertaining eliminator by six points in the curtain-raiser to Tyrone's clash with Cork.
Red Hand manager Harte managed to catch a few glimpses of the action at O'Moore Park, and he was impressed by what he saw of Kevin McStays's side.
“I think Roscommon's performance today, the little bit I saw of it, was quite impressive as well," he said.
“I thought they were playing very good football, they have a lot of good footballers, they have had good under-age, U21 teams for a number of years, and they ran Galway very close for the Connacht title as well. So they are a very good team, there's no doubt about it.
“We can only go on recent history. They have played their football in Division Two, but they're now a Division One team, so do rankings mean an awful lot? It's very difficult to rank anybody after Dublin."
Four tough games in the Qualifiers have tested Tyrone, but they came through unscathed despite coming close to elimination at Pairc Tailteann, where they needed extra-time to see off Meath.
Harte believes the players have benefitted from the journey, and he has learned more about them.
“If you win and get through to the quarter-finals, then it's been a great experience. But if you were to lose any of those games on the way to it, it was a bad season.
“And you can't be sure which it's going to be. So it is the risk factor of the sudden death, after you lose your provincial encounter.
“But that's all behind us now, and we are where we wanted to be, regardless of how we got there - we're in the last eight.
“I do feel that when you're on the Qualifier run, and we have been on many of them, you gain momentum if you keep winning, and you do find out things about your team and your players that you wouldn't find in the white heat of the Ulster Championship.
“So it has a benefit that way, and now the fact that it isn't knock-out in the last eight is going to be good as well, because normally when you're in the last eight, it's a do or die job as well.
“We've had enough of them for now, so it takes a wee bit of the pressure off. You'd certainly want a result of course, but it isn't the end of the road if you don't get a result."
Healy Park will host Tyrone's Super 8 tie with Dublin, and what an occasion that promises to be, as the All-Ireland champions come to town for a crunch championship encounter.
“When Dublin go anywhere, with the team they have had in the last number of years, the country loves to see that," said Harte.
“Normally we only see it in the National League, so it's really going to be a unique experience to see it in the championship, and in the quarter-final of the All-Ireland series.
“So it is something new, something special. It doesn't make them any easier to beat, but we have to take on the challenge of them coming out of what is probably their biggest comfort zone, which is Croke Park.
“They know it very well, they play very well there, they have done so many years of quality performances there, so it's going to be nice to ask them some questions at another venue.
“But the venue won't beat Dublin. We'll have to be on the beset form we can be to make it difficult for them, and if we can do that, then who knows? Maybe we will be in with a shout of being close to them."
And the Tyrone manager feels the GAA will have to review the system for fixing venues for the quarter-final ties, in light of the recent controversy which saw Donegal objecting to the awarding of two home games to Dublin.
“I think when people look at it in the cold light of day, it probably is something that should have been thought of.
“If everybody has a Croke Park game, a home game and an away game, then possibly it would have been easy to see that that would mean two home games for Dublin.
“I think people, when they were making the suggestion to have this type of procedure, didn't really think that through, and maybe in the future that will change."
Meanwhile, the youngest member of the team, Michael McKernan, is living the dream as one of the game's most exciting emerging prospects.
Corner back McKernan has nailed down a place in the team, and is making a valuable contribution to the current championship run.
“You always want to challenge yourself and you want to try and take it to the next stage. As long as I keep performing, hopefully Mickey will be happy enough," said the Coalisland Fianna clubman.
“You need to keep putting the effort in in training. If I'm not playing well, I know there's always someone else ready to come in. the bench is strong and there's plenty of quality, so you need to keep working hard."
McKernan expects Roscommon to pose a stiff challenge at Croke Park this weekend as the Red Hands bid to get their Super 8s series off to a winning start.
“Roscommon will go in with plenty of confidence after that win over Armagh, so it will be a tough one."
The Rossies have serious firepower in Enda Smith, Donie Smith and the Murtagh brothers, Ciaran and Diarmuid.
“They'll take some watching, but hopefully we'll get our tactics right on the day," said McKernan.
“All those games build character. When we got beaten by Monaghan we set ourselves new challenges, game by game through the Qualifiers, and luckily we have got through them all."
And as Tyrone prepare to go again in a hectic s schedule that has seen them in action week after week, McKernan has no worries over their readiness for the latest challenge.
“It's difficult, but we have Pete Donnelly in there, and he has us well trained in recovery and getting ourselves ready for the next game, however soon that might be."


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