20 Jan 2016

Derry v Tyrone Part 3

Dr McKenna Cup Final – Derry v Tyrone (Saturday 7.30pm Athletic Grounds)

Plenty has changed since Tyrone steamrolled Derry in the O'Fiaich Cup in Crossmaglen at the tail end of last year.  Derry made huge strides and have given some positive signs in their four McKenna Cup outings.  One thing that hasn't changed though is Tyrone's desire to win trophies and treat each competition in a serious manner.

After beating Louth to win the O'Fiaich Cup, Mickey Harte's men have one hand on another piece of silverware, with their neighbours and rivals Derry standing in their way.  This is the third meeting of the teams so both sets of supporters will be eagerly awaiting the team news from both Garvaghy and Owenbeg this week.  

Will the teams go all out to win it with their systems in place?  I very much doubt it.  Or will they throw fifteen jerseys into the middle of the dressing room floor and tell the players to wear any number?  It will be somewhere in between I would guess.  I can't see Mickey Moynagh or Colm 'Banty' McGuigan allowing their prize kit to be anything other than nicely hung up on the hooks.

After their win over Cavan, Damian Barton said he was more focussed in Derry's performance than anything else.  

"If we have a performance we’ll not worry about the trophy. The performance and everything else will take care of itself. The fact that it’s Tyrone is of little relevance. It’s more at this stage looking at how we play and how we can develop players. Tyrone obviously as I said are a benchmark for a lot of teams in terms of some of their qualities but we’re getting there.”

When the Ulster championship draw was made I'm sure Mickey Harte and Barton would have been looking at their league meeting as an opportunity to study their opponents and suss each other out along the line.  It's Barton's first year of county management whereas Harte has been there since late 2002.

Now the Derry v Tyrone saga will nearly have it's own box set on sale by the time the summer comes around.  The prospect of five games between the sides will be a bizarre situation with the Celtic Park showdown on 22nd May the culmination of all the preamble.  Two league points and the McKenna Cup are not to be sniffed at, but you can't imagine any open top buses being in operation on Sunday night.  Tyrone are going for their fifth successive title with Derry bidding for their first since 2011.

The group game in Owenbeg recently was possibly more of a barometer.  Derry's hunger early on was evident and the the need for Derry to give Tyrone 'a contest' ringing in their ears.  The Oak Leaf men were rampant but when Tyrone eventually seized control of the middle third and challenged Derry's kick outs as they turned the game on it's head.  

The Derry camp will no doubt be talking about the twenty eight minute spell where they went AWOL and Tyrone outscored them 1-10 to 0-1.  Meanwhile over in Garvaghy Tyrone will be addressing their defensive deficiencies and won't want to 'be cut open' for four goals as Mickey Harte referenced after their last encounter.

If both teams can improve in these two aspects of their game, there will be contentment.  Then again it depends how much each team is going to 'go for' the game as to how satisfied a performance will make them.  Harte wants to win every game.  Barton hints at not being overly concerned but his sideline demeanour shows his ultra competitive nature.  

When the Championship comes around both camps will surely be looking to have an extra dimension to throw into the mix. Ryan Bell's comments after the game tells us where his priority is at.  "I’m working hard at it and the training is good but I’ve a long way to go.  What I’m looking at is May and the Ulster Championship.”

Will both managers look to keep something in reserve and take another look at any panellists who have not got sufficient opportunities to date? A final would be a great chance to road test some players to see what they can offer in the championship cauldron further down the line.

There is more questions than answers but with over 5000 people in Owenbeg for the last outing and with the bite that always comes with Derry and Tyrone games a bigger crowd is expected in Armagh on Saturday evening when Cavan whistler Noel Mooney throws in the ball.

When the dust settles on this final the debate will turn towards promotion from division two.  For now it’s all about two rivals going head to head with the Dr McKenna Cup up for grabs. Who said this was only pre-season? After all, we all need something to get our teeth into.

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Group A
Derry 4-16 Antrim 2-12
Derry 4-6 Tyrone 1-16
Derry 0-17 Queen's 2-8
Tyrone 2-9 Antrim 0-6
Tyrone 3-17 Queen's 1-11

Semi Finals
Derry 1-17 Cavan 1-10
Tyrone 1-13 Fermanagh 0-9

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