Enda McGinley: Tyrone can halt Armagh advance
SARTUDAY could and should be a proud day for Ulster football. If the surface and weather behaves itself we should get the quality of football that unfortunately last weekend lacked.
Tyrone and Armagh get the warm-up shift to allow the Dubs to get into the ground.
I have a bee on my bonnet about these quarter-final double-headers.
As a standalone game the atmosphere would be electric, yet often in the first game in a double-header it just doesn’t feel like an All-Ireland quarter-final should.
Hopefully Tyrone and Armagh will buck this trend - it has all the ingredients to do just that.
Both sets of supporters appear to be really looking forward to the day as much for the excitement of renewing the rivalry and reliving the old ones if not maybe the prospects for either teams' potential progress towards an All-Ireland title.
Armagh and Tyrone are in different places in this regard.
Tyrone have eyes on the biggest guns and the biggest prize.
They see themselves as genuine contenders for the All-Ireland.
Armagh, on the other hand, have gone out of their way to confound the critics.
They were viewed as too strong for Division Three, yet even after shooting the lights out as the highest scoring team throughout the four divisions of the National League, they still managed to miss out on promotion.
Against Down in the first round, they again gave evidence of potential but without sealing the deal.
As a Tyrone man, I do not need advice on the wonders of what a back-door run can do to a team and best of all it is done far from the spotlight of the provincial glory trail.
One of Muhammad Ali’s many great lines was that "the fight is won, far away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights".
Last Saturday, Armagh emerged from their run through the back door appearing a very different team.
Most notable was the complete absence of the team that continually failed to close out games in the League and indeed against Down.
One of the biggest parts of Tyrone’s preparation for the battles with Armagh in the 'Noughties' was preparing for the ability of Armagh to grind teams down, then push for home in the final 10 minutes.
We had meetings where we spoke a lot about those final 10 minutes.
This was where they were strongest so our job was to beat them in that period.
Against Kildare and Tipperary that old Armagh trait has resurfaced. With Messers McGeeney, McKeever, Toal and McGrane on the sideline, one should have no doubt that Armagh will be looking to keep with Tyrone until this final 10 minutes - then see who blinks first.
Armagh had many bright lights and the brightest of those was again the mercurial Jamie Clarke.
On the day, however, there were stars all over the pitch.
Blaine Hughes's kick-outs were right on point.
James Morgan was at his tight rope walking-rule bending best.
Brendan Donaghy gave one of the best defensive displays of the summer across any team.
Niall Grimley and Stephen Sheridan managed to curtail the much-vaunted Kildare midfield, while up front Rory Grugan, Gavin McParland and Andrew Murnin all had impressive games.
They are undoubtedly a team in form and brimming with confidence.
The ‘nearly team’ of a few weeks ago stood up and proved themselves against Kildare.
They now have to show consistency and refuse to be cowed against a team at a higher level than Kildare.
Interestingly, looking at the players used in their last games, Tyrone and Armagh share the exact same - 24.7 years average age.
Tyrone though have reached a higher stage in their development than Armagh at this juncture.
Armagh have had a few false starts in the much-talked of transition process.
From the 2014 team, which started in their last quarter-final appearance, only six started against Kildare.
McGeeney has rebuilt, and rebuilt again, but appears now to have a team that looks more in his image.
Armagh controlled a dangerous but traditionally structured Kildare attacking game-plan.
The problem for them is that whilst everyone talks of how structured and systematic Tyrone are, they miss the point that, as an attacking force, they are anything but.
When Tyrone turn over the ball it is anything goes.
The players' individual skill and decision-making takes over.
Almost any outfield player is a scoring threat which means it is much more difficult attack to shut down.
Crucially, however, this game comes down to mindset.
The Tyrone players remain scarred after last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final loss where their poor performance still rankles with them.
They were always targeting the quarter-final for a big performance.
Complacency could be an issue but chatting to Pete Harte prior to the Kildare game he very much believed Armagh would take it.
One can take it that this view was shared by others within the Tyrone camp, so I believe Tyrone will show Armagh the respect they deserve.
Tyrone previously prided themselves on their ability to raise their level of performance in headquarters.
Last year was a huge disappointment after the joy of the Ulster title, I expect them to banish that ghost and come through with a bit to spare.
In the other quarter-final, Monaghan face the apparently insurmountable object that is Dublin.
This summer has seen a trend for teams to produce significant spikes in their form lines in big games.
Monaghan seen it first hand in their match against Down and now must conjure the same trick.
The fascinating thing is they are a team with that performance in them.
The trouble is they are not only taking on Dublin but also their own quarter-final hoodoo and given their poor form of late this could be a hammering.
I would love to see Monaghan return to their potential and give Dublin their fill of it.
I have a hunch they will as this team plays the underdog better than anyone.
In the end, I still think they will come up short - but if they can keep a full house in HQ on the edge of their seats for long enough, you just never know.