GAA Football

Massive opportunity for Tyrone's fringe players to stake their claim against Meath: Gavin Devlin

Gavin Devlin has every faith in the strength of Tyrone's panel ahead of Saturday's make-or-break clash with Meath in Navan Picture: Seamus Loughran

TYRONE assistant Gavin ‘Horse’ Devlin says a “serious opportunity” is staring some Red Hand players in the face ahead of their make-or-break All-Ireland Qualifier against Meath this weekend.

Boss Mickey Harte will be forced to dig into his resources due to the absences of attackers Lee Brennan, Mark Bradley (both injured) and Peter Harte (suspended).

The veteran manager has called up Ruairi Sludden – younger brother of Niall – to bolster his attacking options for Saturday’s test in Navan.

“We’ve a few injuries and obviously Petey [Harte] isn’t available to us [following his straight red card against Monaghan]. Lee Brennan and Mark Bradley are both out for a number of weeks but we’re not overly annoyed about it,” insisted Devlin.

“Every team in Ireland has injuries. It’s a matter of moving on. We’ve a big squad. We’ve 34 players and there are a number of boys on our panel that have been training really hard and feel they didn’t get the game-time they thought they would have had and there’s a serious opportunity now for them to step up.

“We’re not down about it. You get these bumps along the way, you just have to live with them. I’m sure Meath have injuries too.”

There was an air of expectation from the Brennan-Bradley partnership, but the latter suffered a bad ankle injury in the opening exchanges against Monaghan on May 20 and limped off before the interval, while Brennan carried an injury into the tie and lasted until the 56th minute.

“We play in-house games regularly and every game is nip and tuck,” Devlin said.

“We’ve players of the same quality and the players are working their backsides off to get game-time. Fifteen into 34 doesn’t go. There are boys chomping at the bit and it’s probably hard to stay patient when you’re used to playing football matches. With some players being unavailable for the Meath game, I’ve no doubt the boys are more than capable of stepping up.

“We’ve a lot of players in our team that are versatile and can play in a number of positions, and that’s what the game is all about now, that they have flexibility in their game. There’s no disguising it that there are players we’d love to have available and won’t be available, but that’s life. There’s no point in crying over it.”

Moving Mattie Donnelly from midfield into the full-forward line is a possibility for the Red Hands.

Collie Cavanagh and Tiernan McCann didn’t last the Monaghan game either as they were also not fully fit. But both are expected to be in better shape for Saturday’s Royal clash.

Reflecting on Tyrone’s two-point defeat to Monaghan, Devlin suggested: “We started well in the game and we’d a bad period just before half-time where we conceded a goal and a point and all of a sudden we’re going in two down and straight after half-time they kicked on and got another couple of scores.

“We had to fight tooth and nail to get back level again. Fighting to get back to the top of the hill, it took so much energy to get there… and, on the day, we gave away some silly free-kicks which [Rory] Beggan and [Conor] McManus took.

“We knew going into the game they would, if we gave scoreable frees away, they’d punish us. Even a ball hitting your hand or your leg for a ’45, they went over.”

Given the high expectations in Tyrone and some caustic criticism that followed, Devlin added: “When you win, everybody says everything is great when it mightn’t actually be the case. And when you lose it’s the exact same – critics hammer you.

“But we’re more than used to that. Our boys are seasoned campaigners now. They understand Championship football. The McKenna Cup is gone. The National League is gone. The Ulster Championship is gone. There is only one thing left and that’s Meath in Navan.

“We’ve been down this road before. We know what it takes. We’ve got to dust ourselves down. I’ve no doubt we’re more than capable of doing it, but it’s up to our boys who cross the white line and deliver now.”

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