Boost for Mickey Harte as Joe McMahon and Stephen O’Neill are fit to play

Ronan O’Neill is in contention to replace the suspended Martin Penrose in Sunday’s All-Ireland football semi-final against Mayo

It took long enough for the suspension to be confirmed but Tyrone now have several players lined up to replace Martin Penrose in Sunday’s All-Ireland football semi-final against Mayo.

Manager Mickey Harte is reporting a relatively clean bill of health, with the exception of one further long-term absentee: forward Paddy McNeice, a second-half substitute in the quarter-final win over Monaghan on the August Bank Holiday weekend, is ruled out for the rest of the season after breaking his collarbone in that game.

Tyrone only got word on Friday morning that Penrose’s one-match ban – arising from the incident with Monaghan’s Dessie Mone at the call for half-time – would stand, and with no further recourse for appeal. The request for a hearing in front on the Central Hearings Committee (CHC) was not submitted in time, unlike that of team-mate Conor Gormley, who only got word earlier in the week of his one-match ban for his involvement in the same incident, but who was successful in getting that ban overturned after presenting his case to the CHC.

Harte, meanwhile, is boosted first of all by the news that Joe McMahon will be fit to face Mayo, despite the fact he's been nursing a groin strain since the win over Monaghan, and which forced his replacement early in the second half of that game. Stephen O'Neill has also declared himself fit, despite retiring 15 minutes before the end of the Monaghan game.

Leaves a vacancy
All of which still leaves a vacancy for suspended Penrose: Ronan O'Neill is certainly in contention, having come off the bench to kick a crucial point late in the win over Monaghan, as is Aidan Cassidy, who also appeared as a replacement in that game to good effect.

Mayo face a selection dilemma of a different kind as manager James Moran may be forced to make a big call on who wears the number one jersey. Both first-choice goalkeeper David Clarke and his number two Kenneth O’Malley missed the comprehensive defeat of All-Ireland champions Donegal on August 4th, resulting in Robert Hennelly being called in from the cold to stand between the posts.

Hennelly, as it turned out, hardly put a foot wrong, only beaten once, and late on, as Colm McFadden blasted a late free into the Mayo net. Clarke will once again miss out due a hamstring injury, although O’Malley has now returned to training, followed an ankle strain forced him to miss out the last day, too.

Whether or not Horan decides to stick with Hennelly remains to be seen, but he’s unlikely to make any change to his forwards, despite the fact that corner forward Mickey Conroy has worked his way back to match fitness. But after their 16-point win over Donegal – during which an incredible 13 different players contributed a score, including 3-4 from Cillian O’Connor – it’s hard to envisage Horan making any changes to that attack.

The scale of that victory means Mayo have now won their four championships games coming into Sunday by a cumulative margin of 61 points. Horan is due to name his starting 15 tomorrow, while Harte will wait until after training on Thursday night.

Ligament damage
Meanwhile Limerick's task of overcoming the All-Ireland hurling semi-final defeat to Clare on Sunday has just got that bit more difficult, at least for forward Séamus Hickey, after it was confirmed he suffered cruciate ligament damage early on in that game.

Hickey left the field in distress after just 15 minutes after admitting he “heard something pop” and his loss certainly didn’t help Limerick at a stage they were already chasing the game. Hickey thus faces a lengthy period of rehab even before the full extent of the damage is known, and the earliest he can expect to be back playing is in the latter rounds of next year’s league, where Limerick, at least for now, are resigned to another season in division 1B.

Finally Clare forward Darach Honan has spoken about the likely mixed emotions of facing Cork in the All-Ireland final on September 8th, given he’s just recently finished up in University College Cork.

“I’d know all the lads, I’d be good friends with a lot of them and I know how good they are too,” said the 23-year-old. “So it will be interesting alright. I’d say I know five or six of them well and a few of the CIT lads as well.”