Hampsey makes a case for the defence

By Niall Gartland

PADRAIG Hampsey doesn’t feel personally affronted by a fairly edgy Jim McGuinness column which appeared in last week’s Irish Times, but nor does he agree with the former Donegal manager’s assertion that the game has descended into “a shooting contest.”

While there may have been an element of self-flattery – Donegal were, after all, renowned for their defensive solidity during his tenure – McGuinness is still a respected figure so it certainly raised a few eyebrows when he claimed “the reality is that few defences put any real pressure on their opponents anymore. It is as if there has been a pact to trade scores. Is this what we want?”

Both Ulster Championship semi-finals, particularly the thrill-a-minute encounter between Monaghan and Armagh, were high-scoring affairs, but Tyrone skipper Padraig Hampsey doesn’t believe the art of defending is becoming a thing of the past.

“I think that there’s still some great examples of defensive football, and I don’t think the phsyicality in the game has gone away either.

“You could see that in our game against Donegal, there were plenty of big hits, and I think that’s been seen throughout the championship, so I don’t think I can agree with Jim. There were fine patches of attacking football in our semi-final, but you have to know your defensive roles. I think it’s massively important you don’t leave your defenders out to dry.”

Hampsey was designated with marking Conor McManus in their All-Ireland semi-final victory in 2018. He curtailed McManus to only a single point from play that day, but he says you can’t afford to take your eye off the Clontibret clubman for so much as a second.

“Conor could be quiet for 65 minutes and then he could pop up and hit one or two massive scores to bring Monaghan across the line, he’s that kind of player.

“If you take your eye off him at all, he can really hurt you, and that’s been obvious throughout his career. He’s probably one of the top three forwards in the country, he’ll shoot from anywhere, and not only that but he’s very accurate.”

The tragic death of Monaghan u-20 captain Brendan ‘Ógie’ Og Ó’Dufaigh a fortnight ago will be sorely felt for a long time in the Farney county, and while it’s only a game of football at the end of the day, their senior players will undoubtedly be conscious of honouring his memory.

“Monaghan went through a tough time this last week or so, and you saw the passion they brought to the game against Armagh. They looked down and out and could’ve been beaten, but they showed fighting spirt, and I think that’s what brought them over the line, and we can expect the same on Saturday.

“They’re a very passionate side and a very passionate county. I’m sure the whole county has come together in the last few weeks so they’ll be a very tough team to beat.”

Hampsey was a richly deserving recipient of the Man of the Match award when Tyrone won their last Ulster final back in 2017 with a one-sided victory over Down.

He’s bidding for his third provincial crown this Saturday, and he’s glad that their fortunes have changed for the better after a Division One semi-final hiding to Kerry.

“Going into the Donegal game, we were still being questioned about what level we were at, particularly after the defeat to Kerry. It was a massive game for us and thankfully we came out on top.

“A few things fell in our favour – the sending off of Michael Murphy, they missed a penalty, and Neil McGee had to go off injured.

“Those things played a big part in the game, but it was still a massive win for Tyrone and it’s a great to be back in an Ulster final.”

Tyrone have edged their last three meetings against Monaghan at Croke Park, but Hampsey doesn’t expect the venue choice necessarily bodes in their favour.

“I suppose it’s every players ambition to play in Croke Park and that’s where we want to be playing. But I don’t see it swaying on our favour at all, it’s whoever will work harder will come out on top so it’s a very evenly matched game.”

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