By Niall Gartland
TYRONE Masters stand on the cusp of another All-Ireland final appearance as they renew acquaintances with Dublin at Kingspan Breffni in Cavan this Saturday afternoon.
The Tyrone over-40s team came up trumps against Dublin in the last two All-Ireland finals but there’s no guarantee that it’ll be a similar story this weekend given the close-fought nature of their previous clashes.
An inspired second-half performance from Stephen O’Neill made the difference on the scoreboard in 2021 while extra-time was needed to separate the two sides in last year’s gripping Mick Loftus Cup showdown.
Tyrone have been in top form en route to the last four, winning all six of their group stage clashes but Kieran Leonard, part of the four-man management team alongside father Joe, brother Damian and Eugene Bradley, knows that the stakes couldn’t be much higher this weekend.
Leonard said: “It’s the business end of the season now. You take no team for granted no matter who you’re playing but Dublin will be a big step up from most of the teams we’ve played, though in fairness Donegal came to Killyclogher and gave us a great game in the group stages about six weeks ago.
“We know what they’re about and they know what we’re about. We’ve played in the last two finals and played them in last year’s group stages as well. We’re expecting a tight game and hopefully we’ll get out the right side of it and into another final.”
Tyrone can call upon some of the most decorated players in the county’s history, namely Stephen O’Neill, Conor Gormley and Sean Cavanagh, the last of whom is in his first year on the panel. Another player who has been a revelation is Trillick’s Niall Gormley, who scored a hat-trick on his last day out.
“Niall scored 3-5 against Cavan in our final group stage match, he’s been a brilliant addition. He’s a fresh face and it’s important we bring in new lads every year who are hungry. It gives a bit of freshness to the squad and adds to the competition for places so it’s nice to have,” added Leonard.
“Training can be tough for a lot of lads all the same, a lot of them are still involved with their clubs, and it’s a testament to them at over 40 years of age that they still are playing and managing and coaching. Some of them are coming back and forth from the club but on the whole things are going well.”
Leonard also praised the Tyrone County Board for being accommodating in permitting the side the use of the Tyrone Centre of Excellence at Garvaghey.
“We’ve a good base of players and we train at Garvaghey religiously every week, the County Board granted us the use of the facilities three years ago and we’re based there every Wednesday night without fail. That’s a major, major plus for us.”