Little will be learned ahead of summer showdown but Tyrone can earn vital win
Allianz Football League Division One: Monaghan v Tyrone (tonight, 7pm, Castleblayney, live on eir Sport 2)
MALACHY O’Rourke made six changes for last week’s visit of Kerry to Inniskeen. In the team named to face the Farneymen in Castleblayney tonight, Mickey Harte has made the same number of switches.
Monaghan and Tyrone are set for an Ulster Championship blockbuster this summer and, regardless of what happens this evening, little – if anything at all – will be taken down and used as evidence for when May 20 rolls around.
Hectic schedules, the Dr McKenna Cup running straight into the League and not actually being completed until last weekend, as well as Sigerson Cup commitments for both, have ensured constant chopping and changing.
Healy Park in 12 weeks’ is, simultaneously, at the forefront and the back of both managers’ minds.
Harte and O’Rourke are tweaking and trying things out with a view to unleashing their best 15. That is the long game; the top priority.
But at the same time, despite the tinkering, both still have a job to do. Victory over Kerry last Sunday left Monaghan, in all likelihood, one win away from securing their Division One status.
Their remaining games are away at table-toppers Galway, Donegal in Clones (the Tir Chonaill men were 10 point winners when the counties met at the same venue last month) before finishing up against the Dubs at Croke Park.
Therefore, against a Tyrone team yet to find form, O’Rourke might fancy getting those two points on the board sooner rather than later.
This will be the Red Hands’s ninth game of the year and, after getting their first League win of the campaign in Kildare a fortnight ago courtesy of captain fantastic Mattie Donnelly, another two points tonight would leave them well placed.
They welcome back Colm Cavanagh, who was named to start in last Saturday's McKenna Cup final defeat to Donegal but replaced before throw-in. He partners Donnelly at midfield.
Richard Donnelly and Conall McCann have also been handed starts by manager Mickey Harte while Michael McKernan, Ronan McNamee and Kieran McGeary come into defence.
Rory Brennan, Hugh Pat McGeary and Padraig McNulty drop to the bench, while Ciaran McLaughlin and Cathal McShane sit the game out completely.
Conor McCarthy, UCD’s Sigerson hero, missed the clash with the Kingdom but is expected to play tonight. The full-forward line of Jack McCarron, Conor McManus and Thomas Kerr functioned well last weekend, but the pace and elusiveness of McCarthy provides an added dimension.
Cathal McCarron could be handed that brief, with Ronan McNamee left to shackle McManus. Colin Walshe is likely to be handed the Lee Brennan detail, while Drew Wylie – so impressive in shackling Paul Geaney after the break – could pick up Connor McAliskey.
Richard Donnelly will drop back as Tyrone attempt to flood that central area where Monaghan were so dominant at times, forcing a succession of turnovers early on to put Kerry on the back foot, while Niall Kearns’s burst into the square led to their crucial penalty.
Yet they struggled when Kerry really turned up the heat in the second half and committed more bodies to the attack, having left Geaney completely isolated early on.
Tyrone need to do the same – force errors high up and punish any Monaghan mistake. You cannot see the Farney forwards being granted the space enjoyed last week and, if the Red Hands can strike the right balance, a second win on-the-trot could be their reward.
Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, C McCarron; C Meyler, P Hampsey, K McGeary; C Cavanagh, M Donnelly; C McCann, N Sludden, P Harte; L Brennan, R Donnelly, C McAliskey