Someone's '0' has got to go as Fermanagh challenge seven in-a-row champions Tyrone
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup semi-final: Fermanagh v Tyrone (Sunday, Brewster Park, 2pm)
SOMEONE'S ‘0’ has got to go as the two in-form sides of the group stage put their 100 per cent records for 2018 on the line in the first of the Dr McKenna Cup semi-finals and home side Fermanagh start as underdogs against the eight in-a-row chasing defending champions.
Tyrone have made Ulster’s pre-season competition their own over the past seven years and cruised into the last four with a 15-point win over Antrim and a 21-point victory over Cavan sandwiching a more modest five-point success against St Mary’s, the only team to give them a real challenge thus far.
Meanwhile, Fermanagh haven’t won this competition since 1997 and a year after that Belleek native Rory Gallagher broke into the county’s senior set up. Now manager, Gallagher has made an impressive start as bainisteoir of his native Ernemen with three wins out-of-three in Group C.
Their first outing was a 2-11 to 0-12 win against Monaghan and since it the Ernemen have dug in for a one-point win over Queen’s and a three-point success against Donegal last Wednesday thanks to 1-7 from returning Roslea clubman Seamus Quigley.
That game pitted Gallagher against the county he had managed for the previous two seasons before he made an unexpected exit after a loss to Galway in the Qualifiers.
Fermanagh begin their Division Three campaign against Wexford at Brewster Park on January 28 and Wednesday night’s hero Seamus Quigley was one of nine probable starters for that game who featured against Donegal - the others were Che Cullen, Paul McCusker, Lee Cullen, Declan McCusker, Eoin Donnelly, Ryan Jones, Barry Mulrone, Aidan Breen, Ryan Lyons and Conal Jones.
Meanwhile, Sean Quigley replaced his brother late on and Ruairi Corrigan also featured while Tomas Corrigan has yet to see game-time this year. Erne boss Gallagher, who also has Shane McCabe and former Tyrone All-Ireland winner Ryan McMenamin in his backroom team, trawled the county for new players after he succeeded Pete McGrath as Fermanagh manager and has been impressed with their attitude so far.
“The boys have worked hard over the past five or six weeks,” said Gallagher, who will target a return to Division Two after relegation last year.
“There's much more important games than the McKenna Cup, but it's good to win, because when you win games it shows you are doing things right.”
There has been some background noise about the future of the Dr McKenna Cup over the past fortnight, but Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has been unequivocal in his support for Ulster’s pre-season competition.
Peter Harte scored seven points from play on Wednesday night as the Red Hands put Cavan to the sword. The Breffnimen were minus many of their established stars but Tyrone served notice – not that it was needed – of their intention to continue their dominance of this competition and lay the platform for a successful League campaign that begins with a trip to Galway before all-conquering Dublin visit Healy Park.
“He (Mickey) wants to play as many games in January as he can,” said Peter Harte.
“We always take the McKenna Cup seriously and getting to a semi-final on Sunday gives us another chance to work on things, to be competitive and get another game before Galway in the National League.
“We had a couple of very good scores, and the two goals at the end typified it. There was good kick-passing, good movement off the ball. As you saw last year, you need to be working on that, you need to get very good at it because the top teams are.”
Errigal Ciaran star Harte has not been named in the panel for tomorrow’s game. Mickey Harte has made 13 changes to his starting line-up with county captain Mattie Donnelly (named at centre half-back) and Niall Sludden the only survivors from the side that started against Cavan at Kingspan Breffni.
Tyrone manager Harte rotates Clonoe netminder Mickey O’Neill for Niall Morgan behind a new-look defence and midfield that includes Ben McDonnell, who makes his second start of the year.
Elsewhere, Darren McCurry, Ronan McHugh and Conor McAliskey make up the full-forward line with Conall McCann and Trillick star Richard Donnelly in alongside Sludden at half-forward.
It’s ‘only’ the McKenna Cup, but what a scalp this would be for Fermanagh in what will be a competitive struggle in Enniskillen. Tyrone’s winning streak in this competition has to come to an end at some stage, but not tomorrow.
Tyrone: M O’Neill; A McCrory, C McCarron, M Cassidy; C McLaughlin, M Donnelly, K McGeary; B McDonnell, D McClure; R Donnelly, N Sludden, C McCann; D McCurry, R McHugh, C McAliskey
Subs: N Morgan, L Brennan, B Burns, F Burns, P Hampsey, C Meyler, HP McGeary, M McKernan, R McNabb, P McNulty, R O’Neill