GAA Football

Video: Tyrone's Ronan McNamee set for another tight Allianz League tussle with Mayo

Ronan McNamee of Tyrone and Mayo's Patrick Durcan face off ahead of Sunday's Allianz Football League match in Omagh.
Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Allianz Football League Division One, round two: Tyrone v Mayo (Healy Park, Sunday 2.30pm, deferred coverage on TG4)

HOME is where the heart and head are for Tyrone's Ronan McNamee – but he still knows visitors Mayo are well capable of winning in Omagh.

Indeed in seven League meetings between these two counties, the hosts have triumphed only once, when the Red Hands, inspired by 2-4 from Darren McCurry, won by 2-15 to 0-15 in 2014.

That was in round two, as were the victories for Mickey Harte's men the season before and the season after, both in MacHale Park, Castlebar (obviously), so at least that may give the home side some confidence in Omagh tomorrow.

However, they'll also recall that Mayo won here two seasons ago, by a point in round six, and by the same margin at the same venue in 2010's second round of games.

After losing the Allianz League opener to Kerry down in Killarney, McNamee said: "It will be good to get a home game. We were out in Omagh and the pitch is looking well.

"It's been a strange one, we have beat them down there and they have beaten us up here and it has sort of been that way for the past four or five years.

"We will just have to rectify that [in training] and come Sunday we will look to get out of the blocks."

Ronan McNamee on the loss of Mark Bradley

Perhaps McNamee's perceptions are coloured more darkly by Mayo's Championship wins over Tyrone in 2016 and 2013, as the Red Hands have actually won four of the last five League clashes, including handing out a 2-14 to 0-8 hammering in Castlebar last season in round six.

However, while 2018 was a pretty good year for Tyrone, it was a poor one by Mayo's lofty recent standards. The escaped relegation with a late equaliser in Donegal which demoted their hosts, lost again in the Connacht championship to old rivals Galway, and were knocked out of the All-Ireland in round three of the qualifiers by Kildare. It truly was a case of 'Newbridge or nowhere' for Mayo.

Since then, though, manager Stephen Rochford has stepped away and James Horan has returned to take charge of the county's quest for ultimate glory.

McNamee was impressed by Mayo's tenacity in defeating neighbours Roscommon last Saturday night: "It was awful night for football. I felt sorry for them, to be brutally honest, both teams. There was a stage where [goalkeeper] Robbie Hennelly soloed the ball and the wind blew it so that it went out over his head.

I suppose it was hard to take anything from it but from that, they put the shoulder to the wheel and got the job done regardless of how it looked or what wind was blowing.

"They know they are good in Omagh, they like playing in Omagh and we will have to knuckle down and get the job done."

The Aghyaran clubman applies that attitude to the game himself. After helping Tyrone all the way to the All-Ireland Final, he returned to his club's battle against relegation – even leaving late for a holiday abroad then cutting it short, despite his girlfriend's disappointment.

"I was in the Philippines but my head was in Aghyaran," he recalls.

Having had a tooth knocked out by Kerry's Paul Galvin on his Tyrone debut in 2011, he feared similar treatment – or worse:

"I near got shot going out and then got shot coming home…

"My girlfriend Clara and I had booked a holiday at the end of October to the Philippines, thinking we would be home and hosed at that stage regarding football…

"But we had a relegation battle to go into and it ran until the 25th of November. So I can tell you, the All-Ireland final was long gone at that stage whenever we were staring down the barrel of relegation for a month…

Ronan McNamee on his trip to the Philippines

"We ended up changing flights. I left later than the rest of them – there were four of us went for three weeks.

"Number one, I was in the bad books. We were playing the Moy and to be fair to Aghyaran, they sorted the flights for me. I left two days after the rest of them and I came home a couple of days early because we were playing Pomeroy in the play-off.

"I was in the Philippines but my head was in Aghyaran. They were playing Pomeroy and the first game ended up being a draw. As soon as it was a draw I knew I would be going home for the second game, so I was looking at flights and getting everything sorted, not letting on to Clara what I was at.

"Pretending 'Ah, I might have to go home for this game' - but I knew rightly I was going home for it."

Aghyaran thrashed the Plunkett's in that replay, but then lost to Dungannon Clarke's, so all their efforts came to naught:

"Tyrone were trialling the week before we played our last relegation game…So people had been out of football for almost two months and heading back into trials at that stage.

"We were still f***ing going. It was a long year but it all came off the back of Tyrone doing so well, that's why the year went on so long.

"It was a long year. It was disappointing and it was so long playing that we picked up more serious injuries in the last couple of games than we would have the whole year and it had a bearing on us. It cost us dearly. We were only up one year and went straight back down in 13 months."

McNamee won't complain about another long season, of course, but if Tyrone are also to avoid dropping down to Division Two avoiding defeat against Mayo would be useful.

The full-back himself held Kerry's Paul Geaney scoreless last Sunday, but the Red Hands managed only seven points in Killarney.

Mickey Harte has called Lee Brennan into his starting attack, and pushed nephew Peter Harte into defence, so the hosts should have more scoring power - but expect another tight tussle with Mayo.

Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, HP McGeary; T McCann, R Brennan, P Harte; B Kennedy, D McClure; M Donnelly, N Sludden, K McGeary; D McCurry, C McShane, L Brennan.

Subs: B Gallen, F Burns, K Coney, C Grugan, C McCann, A McCrory, B McDonnell, C McLaughlin, C Meyler, R O'Neill, L Rafferty.

Mayo: TBC.

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).

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