Tyrone have the zip and variety to fell Down

Down’s attacking verve has gained many fans but Tyrone will have their number

Tyrone’s Darren McCurry and manager Mickey Harte celebrate their semifinal win. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie

Tyrone’s Darren McCurry and manager Mickey Harte celebrate their semifinal win. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie

 

Ulster SFC final: Tyrone v Down, Clones, Sunday 2pm – live on RTÉ2 and BBC

Having walloped Derry and Donegal, Tyrone take the final step towards the Ulster title, as they step into the ring against surprise contenders Down. For a county with such an unpredictably glorious history, the challengers don’t appear to be generating boundless optimism among the public at large. That is probably because Down people are realists, which makes them dangerous when they have a good team and circumspect otherwise.

Tyrone are a work in progress but improvement has been steady and on the evidence to date – none of it admittedly, indisputable – they look ready to be contenders.

Down have rebounded exceptionally well for a team that until a few months ago hadn’t won a match in two years but there was a sense that they were riding their luck in the semi-final against a haplessly out-of-sorts Monaghan.

There was more to the famous victory than that but manager Eamonn Burns will know that the same approach is unlikely to yield results on Sunday. Connaire Harrison’s exceptional display against Monaghan will be hard to replicate given Tyrone’s defensive structure and the role of Colm Cavanagh in standing sentry in front of the full-back line.

No-one can take away from the challengers the relentlessness of their workrate and the resilience they showed when the match looked to be swinging against them in the second half, nor the quality of players like Kevin McKernan, Caolan Mooney – whose terrific counterattacks put Monaghan on the back foot – and the reliable place-kicking of Darragh O’Hanlon, but can they dictate play in the same manner they managed in the semi-final?

Tyrone are longer on the road and, as defending champions, have already met their first big championship target. They are a Division One side, playing a county that barely survived in Division Two.

Key improvements

On the field they have registered key improvements. Niall Morgan has developed impressively in goal, commands his area and pulled out of the hat a dazzling array of re-starts against Donegal, including clearing the packed centrefield ramparts to set up speedy attacks, based on quick ball and support runners flooding through.

If one area has been particularly impressive, it is the forwards. Huge victories against Derry and Donegal, averaging double-digit wins on the scoreboard and single-digit wides totals, have featured more of a willingness to let the ball go quickly into the attack.

Mark Bradley caused mayhem but it was also remarkable how easily Tyrone managed to penetrate the Donegal defence by simply running hard at a defence that a couple of years ago would have ushered the soloist into a cul de sac or an ambulance.

It won’t be as straightforward in Clones this weekend, as Down can use physicality and commitment to hit hard, but the zip and variety of Tyrone’s counter-attacking game can be expected to impose itself sooner or later on the final and Down, at a different point in the development cycle, are unlikely to live with that.

Last meeting: 2014 Ulster preliminary round replay, Newry, Tyrone 3-11 Down 0-12.

Odds: Tyrone 2/11, Down 5/1, Draw 11/1.

Just the ticket: (rates for purchase up until Saturday night): Stands €30/£25, €18/£15. Juveniles €5/£5. Concessions only available through clubs and county boards.

Verdict: Tyrone

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.