Tyrone can get off to winning start against attack-minded Roscommon
All-Ireland SFC Super Eights phase one: Roscommon v Tyrone (Croke Park, 5pm today)
IT'S a marathon, not a sprint - but teams know they need to get off to a flying start rather than stumble out of the blocks.
These two are among those who are 'mid-race', compared to the more lightly trained Dublin and Kerry anyway, but are they well-warmed up or running out of steam?
Tyrone tend to settle in, find their stride, and then pull clear. It doesn't really matter how far ahead they are when they breast the tape just as long as they are the ones to do so.
As in World Cup groups, it's not impossible for teams to recover from an initial loss and progress to the next knock-out stage, but such a start would make it difficult.
Somewhat strangely, these two teams are in the (arguably) slightly more advantageous position compared to their group 2 rivals of having home games in phase two, one of which is likely to be against a side that has lost its opener. Sure, the opponents will be either the All-Ireland or Ulster Champions, Dublin and Donegal, but barring a draw in the second part of this double-header, one of those will be travelling with a defeat on their record.
Confidence will be high in both camps after high-scoring wins last weekend and the Rossies might be able, counter-intuitively, take more from their tighter tussle against Armagh.
The Red Hands whipped Cork by 16 points, 3-20 to 0-13, which perhaps says more about the Rebels than Tyrone.
Roscommon won a thrilling score-fest by 2-22 to 1-19, though that margin flattered them. How much that match has taken out of them remains to be seen, although it was only their third game in seven weekends compared to five in eight for Tyrone.
Yet Mickey Harte’s men are well used to making progress through the qualifiers – and better at getting past the quarter-final stage.
Roscommon have never done so, losing four quarter-final ties, only avoiding defeat last year when they earned a replay against Mayo before being destroyed.
It would be daft to suggest that Roscommon are simply happy to be here, though. Kevin McStay and the players will realise a win here could set them up for progress, with Donegal to come to Dr Hyde Park next weekend.
Tyrone probably have a slightly tougher schedule, hosting the Dubs before having to go to Donegal's stronghold of Ballybofey.
Still, both teams will undoubtedly follow Roy Keane's advice and focus fully only on this match, not on what is to come.
For all the freshness of this new Super Eights format, these two are fairly familiar foes, albeit not as much as Tyrone, Dublin, and Donegal, admittedly.
Having never met in the senior championship before 2011, these counties have become regular rivals, this now their fourth encounter since then, albeit their first for five years – but they did meet in last year’s League opener.
Tyrone won that by six points, but a young Roscommon side spurned several good goal chances before the break.
Both sides have mined plenty of players from their 2015 U21 sides, who met in that year's All-Ireland semi-finals. Roscommon were the strong bookies' favourites, having reached the previous year's national decider against Dublin, but Feargal Logan's Tyrone team triumphed by 0-17 to 0-12.
From that team Padraig Hampsey, Frank Burns, Kieran McGeary, Cathal McShane, Conor Meyler, Lee Brennan, and Mark Bradley have all progressed to the Red Hand senior side, with Ruairi Brennan and Michael Cassidy also in contention at times. Roscommon have brought through Niall McInerney, Cathal Compton, Tadhg O'Rourke, Diarmuid Murtagh, and Enda Smith.
The last-named provides serious scoring power from midfield, behind an attack that boasts the talents of Ciarain and Diarmuid Murtagh, Cathals Cregg and Compton, and Donie Smith, with the likes of Finbar Cregg and Ian Kilbride in reserve.
With captain Conor Devaney and Fintan Cregg both forwards converted to half-backs, Roscommon like to go forward.
As my colleague Cahair O’Kane wrote in his assessment of them earlier this week, 'Any team that gives them space could live to regret it'.
Tyrone won’t do that, though.
For all that they are actually more attacking and higher-scoring than their stuck-record critics seem to concede, Tyrone do still get plenty of bodies back, invite teams onto team, then try to turn over possession and counter-attack.
The pace of those Tyrone attacks may be more 33rpm than 45 early on, never mind 78, but the speed of Red Hand forward forays increases as games go on.
Connor McAliskey has been in fine form so far, and Tyrone also have dangerous players across their half-back line, with Frank Burns having scored eight points from play, and Peter Harte looking more lively after his late sending off against Monaghan.
Roscommon will try to keep this game tighter than they did against Armagh, but it's doubtful if their defence is capable of doing that. Even though the open spaces of Croke may suit them going one way, it'll harm them at the back.
Tyrone thumped Roscommon twice by 11 points in the Championship, in 2011 and 2012, the first a shoot-out in Croke, the second more of a grind in the Hyde.
However, Harte will remind his team more of the third meeting, in 2013, when the Red Hands escaped from Roscommon with a fortuitous two-point victory.
Despite winning five of their six meetings this millennium, by an average of nine points, be assured that Tyrone would snap your hand off if you guaranteed them a one-point victory now.
Roscommon may be the only team from outside this year's Division One to be in these inaugural Super Eights, but they will be in the top flight next season, having topped Division Two and won that subsequent final against Cavan.
Harte will also remember that his first ever league game as Tyrone boss, back in 2003, ended in defeat to the Rossies.
Less than a year-and-a-half ago Tyrone faced the same sequence of opponents in League Division One, the difference being that they hosted Roscommon before travelling to Croke Park to take on Dublin. They won the first and drew the second; they'd certainly take those results again and should start in the same vein this evening by edging out the Rossies.
Fintan Cregg (Roscommon) v Niall Sludden (Tyrone)
There are very few direct battles the way Tyrone play and Roscommon have options for man-marking Connor McAliskey - but they'll definitely need to curtail Niall Sludden too. The Dromore has become a key player for Tyrone in recent seasons, creating openings with his powerful running and precise passing. He's also able to take scores himself, including goals. If team selections are to be believed, Fintan Cregg has been brought back into the team for that role. Although normally a half-forward, Cregg has speed and power to track roving half-forwards, and was asked to mark Leitrim's Emlyn Mulligan and Galway's Shane Walsh, coping with the former much more successfully than the latter.
Man of the moment....
Connor McAliskey (Tyrone)
The Clonoe clubman's inter-county season ended after just over an hour early in January of last year when he ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament in a knee. All the hard work of recuperation has been paying off in this campaign, though, as he leads the Red Hands scoring charts with 2-26 from five games. In the absence of Mark Bradley and Lee Brennan, both of whom picked up injuries in the Ulster SFC quarter-final loss at home to Monaghan, 'Skeet' has led the line very impressively. Bradley is back and pushing for a place in the team, having scored a goal after coming off the bench for the final third against Cork, but the 27-year-old McAliskey's place is not under any threat given his recent form. His reliable accuracy from placed balls, bringing 17 of his Championship scores so far, is a bonus for Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.
We know what to expect from Tyrone and an unchanged starting selection makes them even more predictable - but no easier to play against. The deployment of Padraig Hampsey at midfield against Cork was a clever move and the Coalisland man's combination of footballing ability and defensive durability make him a prime contender to be tasked with trying to contain Enda Smith.
The Red Hands carry scoring threat in almost every position, including from attacking half-backs Frank Burns and Peter Harte, although the latter's number seven is mostly theoretical,
Connor McAliskey has been shouldering a lot of the scoring burden, admittedly, but the options on the bench have been increasing, with Mark Bradley returning to get a goal against the Rebels, while Ronan O'Neill and Harry Loughran know where the nets are too. McAliskey's forward colleagues take turns at pushing up around the 'square' and Declan McClure and Padraig McNulty offer aerial alternatives.
The Rossies surely won't be as attacking and open against Tyrone as they were against Armagh, even if their named starting side for this evening seems even more positive than their line-out last time out due to the inclusion of Cathal Compton at full-forward. He may well drop deeper, especially when Enda Smith powers forward, but there's plenty of forward threat from the Murtaghs, Ciarain and Diarmuid, Donie Smith and Cathal Cregg as well.
Niall Kilroy is likely to operate as sweeper while Niall McInerney may be given the task of man-marking Tyrone's main attacker in this Championship campaign, Connor McAliskey. Then again, he had to be moved onto Armagh's Andy Murnin to curtail him, so the physique of Richie Donnelly and Cathal McShane could pose problems in air, which might be where Fintan Cregg comes into the equation, with his pace and athleticism useful around the problematic centre half-back position.
N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, F Burns, P Harte; C Cavanagh, P Hampsey; M Donnelly, N Sludden, C Meyler; C McShane, R Donnelly, C McAliskey.
Subs: M O’Neill, M Bradley, R Brennan, H Loughran, C McCann, D McClure, A McCrory, HP McGeary, K McGeary, P McNulty, R O’Neill.
The Red Hands picking the same side that lined out against Cork is no great surprise - but nor would be one or two alterations. Mickey Harte tends not to change his team too much - but Cathal McCarron did come in the last day with Padraig Hampsey switching to midfield instead of Declan McClure. may be too early for Mark Bradley to start.
C Lavin; D Murray, J McManus, N McInerney; N Daly, Fintan Cregg, C Devaney; T O’Rourke, E Smith; C Murtagh, N Kilroy, C Cregg; D Murtagh, C Compton, D Smith
Kevin McStay has made two personnel changes, taking out defenders Peter Domican and Seanie McDermott, bringing in Fintan Cregg and Cathal Compton. The latter is named at full-forward, though, with Niall Daly now named in defence, having operated there against Armagh anyway. Cregg is better-known as a half-forward but was deployed at centre half-back in the Connacht Championship, to mixed effect.
2017 National Football League Division One, round one: Tyrone 0-18 Roscommon 1-9
2013 All-Ireland qualifiers round two: Roscommon 1-7 Tyrone 0-12
2012 All-Ireland qualifiers round two: Roscommon 0-8 Tyrone 1-16 - SIX years ago to the day
2011 All-Ireland qualifiers round four (Croke Park): Roscommon 1-14 Tyrone 3-19
2003 National Football League Division 1A, round one: Roscommon 0-11 Tyrone 0-10
2002 National Football League Division 1A, round two: Tyrone 3-20 Roscommon 0-14
It could get hot and heavy this evening with the possibility of some showers not particularly appealing. It's set to be a humid day but a dry one at least until later on, when there may be some light rain. The temperature will be between 24 and 26 degrees around match time, so bring a light mackintosh or a hat to keep the sun and possible rain out of your eyes.
Who's the ref?
David Gough (Meath)
David Coldrick may be Tyrone's favourite Meathman but they will probably be content to have fellow Royal referee Gough in charge this evening. The 35-year-old Slane clubman is highly regarded, and is known for letting the game flow, which should suit the physicality of both sides. Gough took charge of the recent Ulster Final between Donegal and Fermanagh and was adjudged to have put in another typically consistent performance, although the Ernemen may have felt aggrieved about losing two men, one to a black card and another to a 'double yellow' red. Has controlled many major matches - but no All-Ireland SFC Final yet.
Tyrone (-3) Evens
Handicap draw (Tyrone -3) 9/1
Roscommon (+3) Evens
Connor McAliskey 6/1
Diarmuid Murtagh 9/1
To score a goal any time
Peter Harte 10/3
Last Championship meeting....
2013 All-Ireland qualifiers round two: Roscommon 1-7 Tyrone 0-12 (Dr Hyde Park, July 6, 2013)
In a sense the Red Hands won this match pulling up, after a slow start - but they were still sweating mightily by the end. Tyrone didn't score in the opening quarter-hour nor in the final quarter of the game, and were thankful that Roscommon hit four wides after reducing the gap to two points - having had a goal-bound Cathal Cregg shot deflected over the bar.
The hosts had netted before the half-hour mark through corner-forward Conor Devaney (now their captain and playing at wing-back) but driving runs from Peter Harte and Darren McCurry's scoring helped Tyrone draw level by the break. Indeed they would have led but for a great save which denied Partin Penrose a goal.
McCurry's accuracy pulled them six points clear after the interval, but the visitors had to hang on for victory as Roscommon finished the game strongly - but not accurately enough.
Tyrone have played previously played 13 quarter-finals, winning six, losing six and drawing one.