FOR a team that reached last year’s All-Ireland semi-finals, there remains a pretty significant question mark about Tyrone’s standing in the Sam Maguire pecking order.
Part of the problem is that, as more and more of Mickey Harte’s decorated veterans slip into retirement or from the starting team, we are still awaiting the next generation to lay down a consistent marker.
Gifted? Check. With the minor medals to prove it? Check. But can they press on and take ownership of their senior championship aspirations? Yet to be proven. The likes of Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly especially have shown they have what it takes at this level, but Tyrone fans are still craving a consistent demonstration of the prodigious talent that lies in Kyle Coney’s locker.
This was showcased in spectacular fashion last March when Coney hit nine points, eight from play, in the drawn match with Cork. Tomorrow, in the more pressurised and claustrophobic atmosphere of Healy Park on championship D-Day, he’ll have another chance to silence the naysayers.
The other issues for Harte Snr to address are tackling the erratic streak and defensive vulnerabilities exposed during the league - suffering a 15-point humiliation in Kerry and then leaking three goals to Dublin inside the opening quarter.
For all that, Tyrone aren’t that far off being true contenders. They suggested that in beguiling spring flashes, while their comeback against Dublin (albeit in vain) underlined a resilient streak that they’ll need over the coming months ... and maybe hours too, because in Ambrose Rogers, Mark Poland, Kevin McKernan, Donal O’Hare and Benny Coulter, Down don’t lack for match-winners.
Enough to counter that familiar Down handicap, home advantage for the opposition? We think not.