Tyrone prepare to take on great rivals and ‘threat’ Derry

Tyrone prepare to take on great rivals and ‘threat’ Derry

Brian Dooher.

By Damian Mullan


By Damian Mullan



BRIAN Dooher has warned that Derry pose a serious threat to Tyrone’s bid to retain the Ulster title as these two great rivals prepare to do battle in Sunday’s Anglo-Celt Cup quarter-final at O’Neills Healy Park.
The Red Hand joint manager insists his side must be at their best if they are to overcome one of the most improved sides in the country.
The All-Ireland champions go into the game with a preliminary round won over Fermanagh under their belts, but they will need to step up their performance levels from that seven points success at Brewster Park.
Derry manager Rory Gallagher, one of the most astute tacticians in the game, has been planning for this game since the draw was made a number of months ago, and he will no doubt have a plan in place to contrive a winning formula for his team.
“We know what we’ll be facing. They’ll work hard and they’ll be fit and very well organised,” said Dooher.
Derry just missed out on promotion to Division One of the National Football League this season, at the end of an impressive campaign that provided ample evidence of Oak Leaf progress, and following several years of struggle, this proud county is very much on the rise again.
They have attacking quality which will cause trouble for the Tyrone defence, particularly Shane McGuigan, one of the most lethal finishers in the game, with Niall Loughlin and Benny Heron also capable of creating and executing scores.
Former Aussie Rules star Conor Glass has been a massive addition as a midfield powerhouse since his return from the AFL, while Derry are defensively solid, with experienced pair Chrissy McKaigue and Brendan Rogers, along with Gareth McKinless, all performing at a high level.
The Oaks, like Sunday’s opponents, have lost some players from their panel, with the departure of Ciaran McFaul a particularly heavy blow, but they have depth to compensate for those no longer involved.
Tyrone have their own concerns. Should a controversial red card picked up in the closing stages of the win over Fermanagh be upheld, Conor McKenna will be a massive loss to the reigning provincial champions.
Mattie Donnelly will miss a second successive game as he continues to recover a hamstring injury, but the Red Hands will be boosted by the return of Peter Harte and Richie Donnelly, both of whom missed the preliminary round tie in Enniskillen.
Despite the potential absence of some quality attackers, Tyrone have an abundance of offensive threat in the form of Darren McCurry, Cathal McShane and Darragh Canavan, and the industry of Conor Meyler, Niall Sludden and Kieran McGeary will propel their challenge for a semi-final spot.
Conn Kilpatrick and Brian Kennedy have developed as one of the most effective midfield partnerships in the country, and can give their side an edge in that vital central area.
The concession of two late goals to Fermanagh in the last game flagged up some defensive issues, but served as a reminder of the need to be constantly alert and focused, and the experienced Ronan McNamee, Padraig Hampsey and Frank Burns will respond this weekend.
Dooher stressed that this will be an extremely difficult hurdle to clear for a team that goes in as favourites to overcome an extremely dangerous opponent.
“They have quality, they have quality all through it. they’re playing well, they have a good system, and we’ll have to see if we can counteract it,” said the treble All-Ireland winner.
“They were unlucky not to get promotion. They have been the in-form team in League football this last two years.
“Under Rory Gallagher, they have come on leaps and bounds, and they pose a very stiff challenge for us.
“They should be in Division One I think. You have Galway, Roscommon and Derry, and there’s not a kick of a ball between them.
“It’s up to us to get our bodies recovered, look back, take the learning out of this game, move it forward, look at Derry and see what we can bring to the game. There’s a real focus, that’s the next step.”
Along with his management partner Feargal Logan, Dooher has been keeping a close eye on the progress of Derry, and assessing the quality that runs through their team.
“They have some great footballers. You have the Glen team, you have the Slaughtneil team back-boning them, and you have good Minors and U20s coming through over the last few years.
“So they have a lot of quality and a lot of pedigree running through their team.
“Derry are back up there now, they’re at the top table, more or less, that’s the way I see them, and they deserve to be there.”
It’s likely that the visitors will drop players back into their own half in a bid to frustrate their opponents in a defensive shut-out, so Tyrone will have to be patient and inventive in their efforts to break them down.
“They are strong defensively, but they’re good footballers.
“You look through their team, and them boys would make any county team in Ireland, that’s the fact.”
Dooher is hoping that a preliminary round outing against the Erne men will have got his side up to Championship pace and provided a slight advantage over a side making its first appearance in the provincial title race this season.
“Hopefully you are, but it’s hard to tell. You won’t know, but you hope that will stand to the players, that bit of fitness, and it definitely upped the pace from League football.
“You hope you will take that from it as people get valuable game time there, and Championship football will stand to them.”
Tyrone will take limited comfort from the fact that they have home advantage, for Healy Park has not been the fortress they would like to have made it. Dooher was on the team that lost out to Derry in a first round tie in Omagh in 2006 when Tyrone were reigning All-Ireland champions.
“That shows you what Derry are capable of, and I’d say they’re probably a better team now.
“We haven’t played much Championship football in Omagh, and I’m sure Derry won’t mind coming to Omagh, it’s a pitch with two goalposts at either end of it.
“They have some fine footballers, and they were very impressive throughout the League.”
“They have some fine footballers, and they were very impressive throughout the League.”
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