GAA Football

Tyrone could cause Galway pain on top flight return

Mattie Donnelly (right) is the new Tyrone captain after the retirement of Sean Cavanagh. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

Allianz Football League Division One: Galway v Tyrone (Tuam, 2.30pm tomorrow)

GALWAY scratch a seven-year itch tomorrow by returning to Division One - but a somewhat ‘scratch’ side may suffer pain from the Red Hands.

The visitors no longer have one iconic figure of recent times, the retired Sean Cavanagh, but the Tribesmen could be missing many more players who would be expected to make their starting team.

Finian Hanley, Michael Meehan, and Gary Sice have all definitely gone, that trio down the retirement route, while the last-named’s Corofin clubmates are also absent for now.

That’s due to the Connacht club champions’ involvement in the All-Ireland series and involves a sizeable contingent, with six expected to join the county set-up fully when those club commitments end - Ian Burke, Michael Farragher, Micheál Lundy, Bernard Power, Liam Silke, and Ronan Steede.

To compound manager Kevin Walsh’s selection problems, five significant players are rehabilitating from injury problems: Seán Armstrong is sorting out a back issue while Danny Cummins, Michael Daly, Fiontán Ó Curraoin, and Gary O’Donnell all had recent operations on various leg injuries.

Even Galway’s backroom team has an absentee: former Tyrone trainer Paddy Tally, who helped his native county to their first All-Ireland SFC triumph 15 years ago, has agreed to join Galway’s set-up, but at present his focus is on St Mary’s University College’s defence of the Sigerson Cup.

The Galbally man may still be able to give Walsh some insight into the Red Hands, having come up against them with his student side in the second round of this year’s McKenna Cup.

However, not much has changed about Tyrone, apart from that aforementioned retiree.

In the post-Sean Cavanagh era, Cathal McShane has been named at full-forward, probably with a similar remit to his illustrious predecessor in the number 14 jersey, given licence to drop deeper and get on the ball around midfield and the three-quarter line.

There’s a new/old look to the corner-forwards, with Connor McAliskey back after recovering from a cruciate ligament injury sustained at the start of last year, while Darren McCurry has regained a starting slot after falling out of favour in 2017. However, last year’s key inside-forward, Mark Bradley is poised on the bench after performing well for Ulster University in the McKenna Cup.

Mickey Harte can also call on Lee Brennan or Ronan O’Neill for that front line and indeed he has serious depth in his panel.

In the short-term absence of the other Cavanagh, Allstar midfielder Colm involved with The Moy today in their delayed All-Ireland IFC semi-final, big Sean’s successor as skipper, Mattie Donnelly, has been named at centre-field.

Indeed Coalisland’s Michael McKernan is the only League debutant, at right corner-back, after impressive performances for club and in the McKenna Cup.

The Tribesmen had a decent pre-season, beating Leitrim, Sligo, and an admittedly much under-strength Mayo in the round robin format of the FBD Connacht League. Those wins ensured a place in the final against Roscommon, a game which may take place next month after the ‘dead rubber’ last group match was postponed last weekend due to the bad weather.

However, Division One is obviously a step up, as is taking on Tyrone, especially as they will want to get off to a winning start.

The Red Hands only have three home games in the ultra-competitive top flight, and even those are against Dublin, Donegal, and Kerry, so they know they must make the most of every opportunity to pick up points.

Tyrone struggled for scores in dreadful playing conditions against Fermanagh in the McKenna Cup semi-final but otherwise they appear more attacking, and should score enough to see off Galway tomorrow.

Galway: TBC

Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, HP McGeary; T McCann, P Hampsey, P Harte; M Donnelly (capt.), P McNulty; C McCann, N Sludden, K McGeary; D McCurry, C McShane, C McAliskey.

Substitutes: M O’Neill, M Bradley, L Brennan, R Brennan, B Burns, F Burns, R Donnelly, D McClure, A McCrory, R McNabb, R O’Neill.

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