TYRONE head west to Tuam on Sunday to tackle Galway in their National Football League opener, with defender Padraig Hampsey cautioning against a potential first day ambush.
The Red Hands face a daunting set of early fixtures in Division One with road trips to Galway, Kildare and Monaghan sandwiched in between by the blockbuster home tie against reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin.
And having ultimately been reliant on positive results during the initial stages of the 2017 campaign to stave off the drop (they lost their last three games on the spin) Hampsey is acutely aware of the importance of a bright beginning.
“When you start out in Division One your main aim has to be to stay up and avoid a relegation fight. As the campaign goes on and maybe you are lucky enough to pick up points then you can change your objectives and set different targets.
“But our main aim setting out is to stay in Division One because it is tough as we found out at the backend of last year. As well as the top teams likes Dublin, Kerry and Mayo, you have newcomers like Galway and Kildare who are keen to impress and lay down a marker.”
The 23-year old is under no illusions about the severity of the challenge that awaits Tyrone against Kevin Walsh’s charges, who will be desperate to claim a high-profile scalp on their return to the top echelon.
“ We know what it’s like in Division One and to start out against a newcomer such as Galway won’t be easy. We are not looking beyond that game.
“We know they are going to be a tough test.
“They have been to the last two Connacht finals.
“They have a good forward line in the likes of Shane Walsh and Damien Comer and are a good tough physical side.
“We played down in Salthill two years ago on a wet and windy day and we just ground it out at the finish up. I didn’t play that day. It was my first year in the squad and I didn’t play much in the National League. We know it will be tough in Tuam, a tighter ground but there should be a good atmosphere.
“With the weather conditions as well we expect another real battle. It will be a good test to start the League. We play them and then have Dublin at home before another two away games in a row so that’s a tough start and we have to be on our guard from when the first ball is thrown in on Sunday.
“Picking up early points won’t be easy but hopefully we can do that and produce good performances along the way.”
FULL STORY IN THURSDAY’S STRABANE CHRONICLE