Thursday 14 December 2017

Steady Red Hand to carve out another semi by felling Farney

VETERAN: Tyrone marksman Stephen O'Neill
VETERAN: Tyrone marksman Stephen O'Neill



(Croke Park, Tonight, 5.0, Live RTÉ 2)

CALL it a hunch, but we reckon Seán Cavanagh's going to be in for some special attention in Croke Park in tonight's curtain-raiser.

For Mickey Harte to describe his performance against Meath as "the best I've ever seen," is pretty significant, coming from a man who has probably seen the full repertoire of a player who, in his illustrious career, has collected three All-Irelands, one minor title, four All Stars, two National League medals, four Ulster titles and a Footballer of the Year award, playing between midfield, centre-forward and full-forward.

Yet Cavanagh's tour de force against the Royals was truly compelling and it's not at all stretching it to suggest he was the difference between Tyrone making this juncture – the one Mickey Harte predicted they would land in post-Donegal – or Meath arriving back for a quarter-final.

Gnarled and all as they are, Tyrone are giving the impression at the moment of a team surviving rather than actually thriving but then again, they never looked like Sam Maguire material prior to the quarter-final final stages in 2005 or '08, when some new stars were anointed.

There are, though, causes for concern for Harte and not just what's coming in the shape of Monaghan. Peter Harte hasn't been entirely himself of late, Stephen O'Neill continues to give the impression of a man not fully fit and outside of Cavanagh and Mark and Matthew Donnelly, scores are that bit more difficult to locate.


They do not have the Mark Hartes and Philip Jordans, the men to get on the end of moves and score from deep, although in Damien McCurry, they have at least located a free-taker boasting above 80pc in his conversion rate, a bane of their season last year.

But the thing about tonight's curtain-raiser is that we can be a whole pile more certain as to what to expect from Tyrone than we can about what the Farney men will bring.

Understandably, celebrations ran longer than is customary for a team facing into an All-Ireland quarter-final but the big trick for Malachy O'Rourke may well be energising a group of players for an unfamiliar event after the emotional high of claiming that Ulster title a fortnight back.

Monaghan have already demonstrated a handy knack for swarming, berating and driving some of the best players in Ireland to the point of distraction, yet the prize has changed and whether they can reset that focus and commitment or not is entirely hard to predict.

Players like Dessie Mone, Colin Walshe, Darren Hughes and Kevin Hughes played the best matches of their career against Donegal and a collective repeat would absolutely be good enough to beat Tyrone going on current form.

But we expect Monaghan to be a little bit off their Ulster final form and Tyrone, that crucial bit better.

ODDS: Tyrone 8/13, Draw 8/1, Monaghan 7/4


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