New-look Tyrone can challenge for honours - Brian McGuigan
FORMER Tyrone star Brian McGuigan says playing Division Two football should prove no barrier to the Red Hands challenging for this year’s All-Ireland title.
In the past, boss Mickey Harte has insisted the All-Ireland winners will invariably come from Division One. Indeed, the last team to win the Sam Maguire who didn’t feature in the NFL top flight was Armagh in 2002.
However, McGuigan says the ultra-competitive nature of Division Two this season can propel the O’Neill county to the latter stages of the All-Ireland series. The three-time All-Ireland winner points to the fact there are five Ulster teams competing in Division Two, which should sharpen Tyrone’s competitive edge come summer time.
The Red Hands have opened up with two wins out of two - over Cavan and Galway - and resume league action against Laois in O’Moore Park on Sunday, February 28: “Tyrone were unlucky to get relegated last year as some of the results in the league could have gone the other way,” said McGuigan.
“So although they’re playing in Division Two, they’re probably a Division One standard. I don’t think Division Two will be a stumbling block for them them because they’re playing a lot of Ulster teams and it’s very, very competitive.”
McGuigan was part of the magical 1997 minor team that went on to conquer the senior ranks. Another impressive generation of young footballers is emerging again following the breathtaking success of the county’s U21 side last year.
A high number of that All-Ireland winning side are now making waves in Harte’s new-look senior side: “I think Tyrone will gain promotion,” McGuigan added.
“If you were looking at Tyrone this time last year, you wouldn’t have had them in the top seven or eight teams. But it’s credit to Mickey, ‘Horse’ [Gavin Devlin] and the backroom team. They not only have put a great team together, but a great panel. They’ve nine or 10 lads who could step up and that’s credit to [U21 managers] Feargal [Logan], Peter [Canavan] and Brian [Dooher] with the U21 set-up.
“A lot of those lads have developed well. Tyrone are in a good place at the minute. And you would have them up there with Mayo, Dublin and Donegal. They’d be in my top four right now.
“The only problem they might have is the likes of Lee Brennan, Mark Bradley and Darren McCurry are very similar players and you might only be able to put one of those players in,” said the Ardboe clubman.
“I know Mark Bradley can play centre half-forward too… Bradley’s very smart and has great movement. I’ve been impressed with Conor Meyler too, so they’ve a lot of leaders there because you don’t know how many years Sean [Cavanagh] and Joe McMahon have left - and they’ve been two of Tyrone’s biggest leaders. Mattie Donnelly has been excellent as well and has stepped up to be a leader too. So I’d expect to see Tyrone in the All-Ireland come late August.”
Tyrone’s last Ulster title success came in 2010 and they’ve made two All-Ireland semi-final appearances since then (2013 and 2015). McGuigan, 36, also heaped praise on Harte for being able to mould another special-looking Tyrone squad over the last 12 months.
“Mickey brings massive positivity to the whole set-up,” he said.
“You never see him running down any of his players and, any time there’s any negativity towards Tyrone, Mickey always backs his players up: “You saw that with the Tiernan McCann-Brendan Rodgers incident in the McKenna Cup final and he backed McCann up.
“The players are willing to fight for Mickey. And for him to build another team like this is credit to him.”