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The smart money is on Tyrone to reprise All-Ireland glory days

At 80/1, Sean Cavanagh for Footballer of the Year may be an inspired bet 

TYRONE’S run to last season’s All-Ireland semi-final has been followed by impressive Dr McKenna Cup and Division Two triumphs, so they look the best bet to claim Ulster glory and maybe even ruffle a few feathers on the national stage, as Michael McWilliams points out...

SIX years. Six long years. That is how long it has been since Tyrone got their hands on the Anglo-Celt Cup as Ulster champions.

After dominating the noughties alongside neighbours Armagh, the Red Hands have had to take a back seat in the Ulster race in recent times, with Donegal and Monaghan farming the last five titles between them and contesting the last three finals.

Yet, the draw for this season’s Ulster Senior Football Championship has at least ensured a fourth decider on the trot between the same two teams is not a possibility, with Malachy O’Rourke’s reigning champions scheduled to take on Rory Gallagher’s men in the last-four, should they both make it that far. And the fact the other two outstanding teams in the most competitive provincial race in the country are on the other side of the draw makes Tyrone the stand-out bet for this season’s Ulster title.

Donegal are just about the jollies with most firms at 9/4 and it would be a fool who rules them out given the proven quality within their ranks, with Tyrone a best-priced 11/4 with Bet365 and Monaghan priced up at 11/2 by Boylesports. Derry, Tyrone’s opening opponents on May 22, are next best at 10/1, but seem to be going the wrong way after a promising start under new boss Damian Barton.

Cavan (11/1, Bet365) have also made huge strides in recent seasons and joined Tyrone in earning promotion to the top flight of the National League next term, but it might be a bit early in their development as a team to expect them to capture a provincial title, while they won’t get it all their own way in their quarter-final against Armagh. The winner of that one will take on Tyrone in the last-four - provided Mickey Harte’s men come away from Celtic Park with a victory, which they really should - and that would be a step too far for either.

After a few years in the doldrums, at least in comparison to the glory years of last decade, Harte and his management team have hit on a winning formula once again. Indeed, last year’s early Ulster loss to Donegal proved a blessing in disguise and should serve as a lesson to anyone who goes out early this time around about what can happen if panels stick together.

That defeat let Harte filter through a few of the county’s successful U21 players in the Qualifiers and they provided an impetus that, combined with the experience of the likes of the Cavanagh brothers, carried the O’Neill county to the brink of another All-Ireland final appearance.

That they bowed out at the hands of Kerry in the national semi-final has not derailed Tyrone’s progress and they are unbeaten since that day, winning the Dr McKenna Cup and Division Two of the National League in the interim.

That is serious momentum to carry into the Derry game and they will also be confident about winning on the banks of the Foyle as they’ve played four times against the Oak Leafs in the last few months, winning four, with the last meeting in the NFL providing the most comfortable of those victories.

Mark Bradley, Darren McCurry and Ronan O’Neill are growing as inter-county performers with every game, with the latter threatening to provide a reliable scoring presence not seen since his namesake Stephen left the scene, while Sean Cavanagh still has a bit of stardust when required.

Tyrone are also one of the fittest teams around and their ferociously quick counter-attacking style makes them at least a match for almost every team in the country. But is not all about flair either, with Colm Cavanagh and Mattie Donnelly prepared to put in the hard yards and the Red Hand blend certainly looks the most potent in the northern province.

All of that, combined with the fact they are on the opposite side of the draw to Monaghan and Donegal, makes them by far the best bet for Anglo-Celt glory and the 11/4 offered is clearly value, especially when you consider that a couple of firms have them as 9/4 joint-favourites with Donegal.

On the national scene, Dublin are clear favourites to retain the title they won against Kerry at Croke Park last September. The Dubs won Division One with a bit to spare last month and are no bigger than 5/4 to add Sam Maguire to the trophy cabinet, so it is hard to go against them.

That said, this current Dublin team have made a habit of winning the big prize in alternate years and retaining it has, thus far, proved beyond them. It would clearly be no surprise to see them put that right this time round, but I’m not a fan of the price and would rather look elsewhere for value.

The Kingdom are next in the betting at a general 3/1, with perennial nearly men Mayo at 6/1 to finally bury their curse. Once again, however, I’m drawn to Tyrone at 12/1, especially as they would once again be on the right side of the draw should they win Ulster.

A provincial crown would set them up to avoid the Leinster or Munster champions - presumably Dublin and Kerry - until the final, at which point they’d have come good on any each-way bets. There is nothing to fear from anywhere else in the country, so the 12/1 does look very big again.

The winners of Connacht will probably be in their path, although who that will be is not as cut and dried as is the norm. Mayo have won five on the bounce in the west and are 8/13 with Boylesports to keep that run going, but I’ve a sneaky feeling Roscommon could upset them.

The Rossies reached the last four in Division One and, while they struggled to see off New York in their opener in the Big Apple, a few of their big names were rested and they can only improve for that. At 3/1, they are fine value as they are in the other half of the draw from both Mayo and Galway.

Finally, if Tyrone do go as well as I expect them to, there might be worse ideas than a small bet on Sean Cavanagh being named Footballer of the Year, at 80/1 with Paddy Power. The Moy man is still his county’s talisman and will be keen to maintain his high standards in what could be his final season. I’ve definitely seen worse 80/1 shots, so you just never know.

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