FOLLOWING a turbulent start to the new year, Tyrone are out to maintain their iron grip on the Dr McKenna Cup, and secure a timely fillip in the process, when they come up against Monaghan this evening at the Athletic Grounds. For all the enduring appeal of corny Aussie soap operas over the years, Cathal McShane’s ‘will he or won’t he’ career shift Down Under is one drama that Mickey Harte could have done without heading into 2020.
Yet on the pitch Tyrone have continued to set the early January pace, as has been the norm over the past decade, and despite a greatly altered cast list, they are on the cusp of an eighth McKenna Cup title in nine seasons.
They set up their date with the Farney men by virtue of a 2-16 to 1-10 semi-final victory over Down last Sunday when the side was skippered by All-Star full-back Ronan McNamee.
The Aghyaran man said he was proud to lead the side out at Armagh, though stressing that the end result rather than personal satisfaction remained the priority.
“It’s not often you get the chance at this level, but with Mattie (Donnelly) and Petie (Harte) being away, he’s been passing it about to a few different lads.
“It’s obviously a great honour, but at the end of the day, you shouldn’t be making it any different than any other day. It’s always nice to get competitive games at this time of the year, and it’s nice to get back to another McKenna Cup Final.”
Last Sunday was a particularly memorable one for all Aghyaran Gaels, as not only was McNamee captain for the occasion but his club-mate Benny Gallen was between the posts and another St Davog’s player Ronan McHugh came off the bench to smash home the clinching second goal at the death.
Indeed the Aghyaran trio all popped up with crucial late scores which put the result beyond doubt, a contribution which was not lost on the skipper.
“It was nice for the three of us to finish a game together. Ronan is coming back from a serious (knee) injury, and it’s good to see him back and getting game time and just being well enough to play games.
“And obviously Benny and (Niall) Morgan are toughing it out there, game about. It’s nice for the club to be representing the county, we’re all proud Tyrone men and any day you’re given the chance to run out, you’re very grateful for it.”
Tyrone were down to the bare bones in terms of squad strength last Sunday (just six subs were named in the match programme) yet McNamee has praised the team for making light of their predicament to still turn in a winning performance.
“There’s a lot of boys away playing Sigerson, that leaves squads depleted at this time of year, but what ever was there, the boys dug in and got a good enough result out of it.
“And when you’re carrying a few niggles, and boys are getting a big of game time but not necessarily ready for 70 minutes, it leaves it tight for numbers, and it puts a load on everybody else. But it’s good to be fit to take a jersey and run out on to the field and be grateful for the position you’re in. Every day you get to tog out for Tyrone is a good day. I’m just glad to be back and healthy and ready for Saturday night.”
FULL STORY IN THURSDAY’S PAPER…