Soothsayers’ Red Hand conundrum
I don’t normally take a parochial stance on such matters, but I am on record as forecasting another Ulster title for Mickey Harte’s men this year. I actually thought it was a fairly brave prediction. But, if you are to judge by the views of the pundits, the Ulster Council might as well hand over the old trophy before the throw-in on Sunday at the Athletic Grounds.
Take the Irish News, for example; in their splendid 64-page championship supplement, all four of their reporting team expect the Red Hands to win the title, three tipping victory over Down in the final, the other anticipating that Monaghan will be their victims in the decider on July 22.
Deputy sports editor Kenny Archer, a Dungannon native who was reared just down the road from Stangmore Park - home of Swifts soccer, suggests Tyrone may be most vulnerable early on, acknowledging they ‘might fall at the first hurdle’, but he began with a twist on an old soccer adage.
‘Some say: “Football is a simple game - you play for 120 minutes and then the Germans win on penalties”. In recent years there seemed to be an Ulster GAA version: “Gaelic football is a complicated game: you play for 70 minutes and then Tyrone win”. Donegal shook that up last year, stopping Mickey Harte’s men in their pursuit of an Anglo-Celt three-in-a-row with a Manchester City-style late goal in the semi-final. But the rejuvenated Red Hands are understandably the favourites for Ulster SFC again.’
Brendan Crossan declares that there are six non-runners in the competition via an equine analogy.
It ‘is a three-horse race between Tyrone, Donegal and Down - in that order - and I don’t see any dark horses. Armagh sit on the cusp of Ulster’s top three. A kinder draw and they might have launched a challenge - but Tyrone is the toughest possible start for them. I fancy the Red Hands to navigate the sizeable potholes in the form of Armagh, Donegal and Down to finish top of the provincial pile. I sens, too, that there are big years in Sean Cavangh, Stevie O’Neill and Owen Mulligan.’
Paddy Heaney, arguably their best writer and shrewdest critic, has the same shortlist of contenders - with Monaghan tagged on. But he still comes up with a Tyrone-Down climax.
‘Down’s assistant manager Aidan O’Rourke will able to pick Kieran McGeeney’s brains about the tactics Kildare employed when beat Tyrone in the league final. Down, however, mightn’t have the physique to execute the gameplan just as well as the Lilywhites, so Tyrone would be fanced to win that particular encounter.’
Eamonn O‘Hara says it’s a double jeopardy situation for Donegal, back-to-back successes in the Ulster Championship requiring the 2011 all-Ireland semi-finalists to break a jinx that spans four decades, five attempts having yielded just one final disappointment, the revenge defeat by Derry in 1993.
‘Given the draw, the headily loaded side of it they are in, it would be extraordinary were they to see the double through, capable and all as they are of achieving the goal. Donegal was the dark horse selection last year. Tyrone were tipped. Tyrone are fancied again.’
Archer and Crossan tip Kerry to achieve all-Ireland success, Heaney and O’Hara fancy Cork.
The Belfast Telegraph supplement wasn’t quite as elaborate, predictably enough, but they still provided plenty to digest their concise 24 page supplement.
They had plenty of material from their own men but also incorporated a province-wide nine-strong panel of experts to widen the scope of opinions, although I was gobsmacked that they allowed two to give their verdicts as ‘undecided - hardly playing to the final whistle!
Of Tyrone’s prospects, staffer Declan Bogue ventures: ‘Pace themselves correctly and they could win Ulster again. After that, who knows where the journey will end...’. He asserts the (anticipated) Tyrone-Donegal semi-final clash will again be the real Ulster final.
But their lauded columnist Joe Kernan is less wishy-washy with this opening paragraph in his page-long article: ‘Straight away, let me nail my colours to the mast. I cannot for the life of me see any team other than Tyrone taking delivery of the Anglo-Celt Cup. To me, Mickey Harte’s side looks the real deal’. Enough said then, Joe!
Of the others, six cast their votes in favour of Tyrone, with Monaghan stalwart Nudie Hughes predicting a Donegal triumph, mainly because of Mickey Murphy on the edge of the square.
Antrim’s Kevin Madden reckons Tyrone ‘have the resources, intensity and ambition and will be very keen to prove themselves in what I feel will be a very open and intriguing championship’.
Armagh’s Diarmuid Marsden reckons the Red Hands ‘have shown great consistency, have quality forwards and rich resources on the bench. Opponents will encounter difficulty dealing with that’.
Tom Brewster believes it’s ‘hard to look past Tyrone. They still have the best forwards in Ulster and have so much coming through, even without O’Neill and Coney.’
Cavan’s Damien O’Reilly narrowly sides with Mickey Harte’s team ahead of Donegal. ‘Tyrone in the league put up big scores and conceded eight points in a rown in the final, but that is unlike them. They, and Donegal, will be organised. It’s very hard to call, but this year Tyrone might just change the result.’
Tony Blake from Donegal suggested ‘it’s almost impossible to predict who will come out on top because even the weaker counties are getting very, very strong. If you were holding a gun to my head, I would be looking at Tyrone. But Down will not be far away either’.
Down’s Peter McGrath you’ll read about elsewhere on these pages.
Irish Mail on Sunday’s preview centred chiefly on the All-Ireland chase with ten of the sport’s biggest names asked for their opinions, along with resident experts Mark Gallagher, Philip Lanigan and Joe Brolly. Again nobody tipped the O’Neill county to go all the way.
Indeed, only one of their trio of columnists - Lanigan - tipped the Red Hands to win Ulster, Brolly and Gallagher fancying Donegal. They both see Kerry as winners of Sam, while Lanigan naps Cork.
The Leesiders are tipped as well by Armagh men Stevie McDonnell and Tony McEntee, Luke Dempsey, Michael McDermott and Sean Cavanagh while Martin McHugh and Dessie Farrell opt for Kerry. Kildare, too, have two votes from Conor Deegan and Colm O’Neill - while Dermot Earley tips Dublin. The only mention of Tyrone anywhere is this from Kildare man Earley: ‘It’s the usual suspects - Cork, Dublin and Kerry. We’d like to see ourselves in that group, as will Tyrone and Donegal’.
Thus it seems that, whereas there’s a big majority anticipating glory at provincial level, beyond July next to nobody will collect money from the bookies if Harte’s men win Sam Maguire No.4. Wouldn’t it be great if all were left licking their wounds?
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Weather for Dungannon
Sunday 19 May 2013
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