ALL-IRELAND SFC ROUND THREE
Tyrone v Westmeath
Sunday, Kingspan Breffni, 4pm(Live on GAA GO)
By Niall Gartland
PROGRESS out of the group stages has been presented as a fait accompli for Tyrone, but they can’t afford to rest on their laurels ahead of Sunday’s showdown against Westmeath in Kingspan Breffni.
The mission for Tyrone (not to mention Galway and Armagh) was theoretically a straightforward one – avoid finishing dead last and you’ll at least live to fight another day. As for Westmeath, sure they’re only out of remedial because they won last year’s Tailteann Cup, right?
Well, it’s turned out to be something of an unfair characterisation as Dessie Dolan’s side have exceeded expectations in their two outings to date. They really should’ve beaten Armagh on their first day out (they were scuppered by a late fortuitous goal) and they gave Galway their fill of it a fortnight ago. Pádraic Joyce’s side raced away in the closing stages, but there were only two points between the teams with 55 minutes on the clock.
Tyrone are still strong favourites to claim the win, and it’s still feasible that they top the group and avoid having to partake in a ‘preliminary’ quarter final next weekend. To do so they must beat Westmeath and hope Armagh do them a favour against Galway, and at that point scoring difference would come into play. By the same token, they’re not out of the woods yet in terms of avoiding elimination, but it would take a very bad day at the office indeed for that particular indignity to transpire. As always with these things, it’s complicated and there’s a certain amount of ‘what ifs’, but the smart money is on a mid-table finish.
While it hasn’t always been plain-sailing, Tyrone will be happy enough with where they stand at this juncture of the season.
Joint-manager Brian Dooher emphasised that he ‘couldn’t fault’ the application of his players in recent post-match interviews, and their efforts paid off with a badly needed victory over Armagh a fortnight ago. Generally the team is playing rather well and there’s a sense of stability with around a dozen of the starting line-up almost picking itself at this stage. Frank Burns comes back into contention after serving his one-match suspension having been red carded against Galway while Niall Sludden, recalled to the panel against Armagh and 2021 Footballer of the Year Kieran McGeary will also be battling hard to make the first 15 this Sunday. Elsewhere it’s likely to be as you were – that full-back line of Padraig Hampsey, Michael McKernan and Ronan McNamee is easily the equal of any in the country, Darragh Canavan and Darren McCurry are flying up front, Mattie Donnelly and Conor Meyler are as influential as ever, you have the two big midfielders, and Errigal duo Cormac Quinn and Joe Oguz are well on their way to nailing down a starting spot.
While victory over Armagh came as a considerable relief – a very idea of a fifth championship defeat in-a-row was borderline unthinkable – it wasn’t a blemish-free performance.
When Tyrone led by five points early in the second-half against an Armagh side shorn of a red carded Rian O’Neill, it looked like supporters could afford to sit back and relax. But they didn’t compound their advantage and only for a couple of late points from Darragh Canavan, the outcome could’ve been very different.
It was a similar enough story against Monaghan in the first-round of Ulster, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can make their dominance count if they build up an early lead against Westmeath this Sunday.
With all due respect, Westmeath aren’t exactly box office and Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher will have conducted something of a crash course on the Leinster side in the last week or so.
They’re a decent enough side and won last year’s inaugural Tailteann Cup against Cavan (no mean feat, really), but defeat to Louth in a Leinster Championship clash a couple of months ago didn’t bode well for their chances in the race for the All-Ireland.
But they’ve done reasonably well and have a couple of players worth keeping an eye on – John Heslin, comfortably with their man with the most name recognition, lively forward Luke Loughlin, Sam McCartan another in that mould, and defenders Jack Smith and James Dolan.
Just as importantly, they’ve brought the fight to their opponents to date so they’re unlikely to give Tyrone the red carpet treatment, and their manager Dessie Dolan has earned praise for his tactics and match-ups so they’re not lacking in that regard either.
All in all it’s certainly a potential banana skin for the Red Hands, but you’d expect their overall superiority to tell over the course of the 70 plus minutes.
As for whether that would mean a place in the last 12 or automatic progression to the quarter-finals, well that one’s in the lap of the Gods.
2014 Tyrone 2-23 Westmeath 1-12 (Omagh)
THE sides were level five times in the first half, but Tyrone finished strongly with a Ronan O’Neill goal before Sean Cavanagh wrapped up the points with a second goal four minutes from time.
Tyrone: N Morgan (0-3, 2f, 1 ’45), A McCrory, R McNamee, R McKenna, C Clarke, Mattie Donnelly, P Harte, C Cavanagh (0-1), S Cavanagh (1-2), C McGinley (0-4), S McGuigan (0-1), C Grugan (0-1), K Coney (0-3, 1f), Mark Donnelly (0-2), C McAliskey (0-5, 2f). Subs: D McBride (0-1) for R McNamee (5), R O’Neill (1-0) for C Grugan (HT), PJ Lavery for McGinley (60), P Hughes for McGuigan (60)
Westmeath: D Quinn, S Gilmore, K Gavin, K Maguire, J Dolan, J Gilligan, J Gonoud, D Duffy, P Sharry, D McCormack, G Egan (0-2f), K Martin (0-1), C McCormack (0-1), D Dolan (0-2), D Glennon (0-5). Subs: R Connellan (1-1) for D McCormack (h-t), Damien Dolan for Gilligan (46), J Egan for C McCormack (52), R Foley for P Sharry (58)
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2014 Tyrone 2-23 Westmeath 1-12 – NFL Div 1
2012 Tyrone 2-12 Westmeath 0-8 – NFL Div 2
2009 Westmeath 2-10 Tyrone 1-15 – NFL Div 1
2008 Tyrone 0-14 Westmeath 0-7 –SFC Qualifiers Round 2
2005 Westmeath 3-8 Tyrone 1-24 – NFL Div 1A
SEASON SO FAR
Louth 1-8 Westmeath 0-9
Westmeath w/o Kildare d/f
Westmeath 1-16 Wexford 0-6
Westmeath 1-6 Cavan 0-12
Longford 0-9 Westmeath 4-16
Westmeath 2-12 Offaly 0-12
Down 1-10 Westmeath 0-11
Westmeath 4-27 Antrim 0-8
Fermanagh 0-15 Westmeath 2-8
Westmeath 1-13 Tipperary 0-10
Louth 2-10 Westmeath 1-11
Armagh 1-13 Westmeath 1-12
Westmeath 0-12 Galway 0-20
Tyrone 0-17 Fermanagh 1-7
Derry 0-10 Tyrone 0-10
Tyrone 0-15 Cavan 0-10
Derry 3-11 Tyrone 1-5
Roscommon 3-11 Tyrone 1-12
Donegal 0-8 Tyrone 0-16
Galway 0-16 Tyrone 0-13
Mayo 4-10 Tyrone 0-12
Tyrone 1-15 Kerry 2-9
Monaghan 0-13 Tyrone 2-15
Tyrone 0-18 Armagh 0-16
Tyrone 1-18 Monaghan 2-17
Galway 0-16 Tyrone 0-13
Tyrone 0-13 Armagh 0-11
John Heslin 3-46 (35f, 1 pen)
Ronan O’Toole 2-25 (5f, 3f, 1m)
Darren McCurry 1-50 (30f, 1m)
Darragh Canavan 1-30 (7f)
IT’S a hotly contested group and Tyrone can still finish top of the table if things go their way this weekend. But equally, they can still finish bottom of the table if they lost to Westmeath and Armagh get the better of Galway.