By Barry O’Donnell
TYRONE must get their ‘own house in order’ in their final group game against Westmeath to avoid any last day concerns about missing out on the knockout stages of the All-Ireland series, Ronan McNamee insists.
There is a scenario this Sunday afternoon where the Red Hands could suffer a shock loss to the Lake County at Kingspan Breffni and still progress to the next round (should Galway beat Armagh), which would bring score difference into the equation. Yet a positive Armagh result allied to a Westmeath win and Tyrone would bow out on the head-to-head rule.
However former All-Star defender McNamee is keen to render any such calculations redundant, and the way to do that is by getting the better of Westmeath this weekend.
“The scoring difference in this group isn’t going to be massive unless something different happens on the last day so we need to ensure that we have our own house in order and if we do that then the performance will come.”
The Red Hands are raging hot favourites to account for their Leinster opponents and so advance into the preliminary quarter-final ties (essentially the last 12) the following weekend.
Yet given the evidence of Westmeath’s agonising one-point loss to Armagh at the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds in an earlier group game, McNamee is taking nothing for granted.
“Westmeath were wrote off before a ball was kicked in this group and that would have favoured them as sometimes going in under the radar suits and we have been in that position a few times when nobody gave us a sniff and we went out and turned a few heads. Our full focus will now be on Westmeath and they will get the respect that they deserve, the respect that we give to all opponents.
“Westmeath should have got over the line against Armagh, they were very unlucky not to win and we all know how difficult a place the Athletic Grounds is to get a result.
“They have a lot of experience in their side such as John Heslin and they have quality young players as well so they are going to have no problem carrying the underdog tag.”
Tyrone at least come into the contest on a high after their hard-fought 0-13 to 0-11 victory over 14-man Armagh in Omagh a fortnight ago. The hosts seemed relatively in control of that derby for the most part, but were still relieved to hear the final whistle as the Orchard fought valiantly to the end. McNamee knew that their opponents wouldn’t succumb without a real battle.
“We expected nothing else to be brutally honest, we knew that we were going to have to go to the well to win it. It got very noisy at the final quarter when they closed the gap and that helped create a great atmosphere. We knew that we had to get a result and to be honest we were just glad to come out on the right side of it.”
“It’s just learning and trying to improve all the time from the things that we did wrong against Monaghan.
“We let them back into it and they deserved their win but against Armagh when our backs were to the wall a few boys stood up like Darragh (Canavan) they way that he carried that ball 60 yards and kicked it over with his left foot at a crucial time in the game. Mattie (Donnelly) was outstanding as well and that is what you need at this level in tight games.”
McNamee also felt it was an encouraging sight to see Cathal McShane return from injury as a sub against Armagh, further bolstering Tyrone’s attacking options.
“We ran the bench well against Armagh with the lads all making a contribution and the likes of Cormac Quinn has been a mighty find this year. There are a lot of boys who have left since 21 but new boys have come in and have stood up and the talent that is there and the competition for places is frightening.
“Boys are just mad eager to get at it and if we can get Cathal back he is huge to the whole thing. He has just been really unfortunate with injuries but I think that he is aiming to be back pretty soon which will be a massive boost for us.”