GIVEN the perilous run of fixtures lying ahead, Kieran McGeary acknowledges that Tyrone must get their Division One campaign off to a winning start tomorrow against Meath in Omagh.
Buoyed by their now perennial triumph in the McKenna Cup last weekend, when McGeary captained the side to victory over Monaghan in a dour struggle, the Red Hands are now primed for a tough National League programme of games over the next two months.
Difficult road trips to Monaghan, Galway, Mayo and Donegal will be interspersed with home ties against the country’s top two, Dublin and Kerry.
Such an arduous looking schedule underlines the need for Tyrone to fly out of the starting blocks at Healy Park when new boys Meath come calling, and so avoid a repeat of their tardy opening last term when they annexed just one point from their first three league matches.
On paper a home assignment with the promoted Royals would appear to provide the ideal springboard for Tyrone to build on as they face into more stiffer tasks, but McGeary sounded a note of caution.
“Division One is very competitive and fixtures are what they are. You can play anyone at home and still end up getting beat. We have a lot of tough games coming up but we wouldn’t be looking past Meath this Sunday.
“It may be the first outing but there are two vital points up for grabs and we will be ready for the challenge that Meath bring us.”
Past history alone lends weight to McGeary’s prudent comments given that Meath have tended to get the better of Tyrone in high-profile matches over the years (’96 AISF, 2007 AIQF most notably), even when the Red Hands have gone in as big favourites.
The most recent meeting, the All-Ireland Championship Qualifier in 2018 at Navan, was another case in point, with the visitors just about surviving an almighty scare to take the spoils narrowly after extra-time.
McGeary expects a typically spiky and abrasive challenge from the Royals this Sunday as they make their return to Division One for the first time in well over a decade.
“That day in Navan was extremely scary and we were lucky to get out of there with a win. It was a severe test but was a win that stood to us and we were able to go all the way to the All Ireland final.
“We certainly know what to expect from them in Omagh and we will prepare for the game as best as possible. The fact that it is a home game for us will make no difference as they will still come with intensity and physicality so we will definitely try and match that and come out with another win.”
While promoted teams have often found the going too tough at the elite level in the National League over the previous couple of seasons, McGeary is insistent that Meath are more than capable of holding their own against the nation’s top counties.
He also pinpoints their physical attributes as a key part of their gameplan.
“When teams come up a division in the league they are always determined to prove their worth that they belong there and Meath will certainly be no different.
“Meath will be aiming to prove a point and get off to a fast start in their first game which just happens to be us and we know that we are going to be targeted.
“It’s going to be a hell of a physical battle and if you take the ball into the tackle against them you will definitely be stripped off possession. They are fit and they are also a tall team as well so they have all that you would want in a footballing team.”
McGeary was proud to captain Tyrone to their latest McKenna Cup triumph last Saturday night at the Athletic Grounds, their eighth in nine seasons, and hopes that they can benefit from having four competitive matches under their belt heading into the league.
“The McKenna Cup is a good competition to prepare for the league as it gives you competitive games and the management a chance to give new players a run out.
“There were a lot of mistakes made and a lot of good play as well. It helps blow the cobwebs off after Christmas and we are happy to have got the full quota of four games and happy to have won it again.”
And the Pomeroy man is confident that the newcomers to the Red Hand panel will flourish having now been part of another successful January cup campaign.
“It’s a great opportunity to give players who are fresh into the panel a chance to show what they are worth at this level and a lot of the boys out there tonight certainly did that.”