New faces will add energy as Tyrone look to avenge Ulster semi-final loss says Brian Dooher

U20 Footballer of the Year Shea O’Hare among new quintet for opener against Ulster kings Donegal

Johnny McGuckin and Shea O'Hare
Ardboe clubman Shea O'Hare has been named EirGrid U20 Football Player. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

TYRONE have added U20 Footballer of the Year Shea O’Hare to their senior panel along with Michael Rafferty, Eoin McElholm, Ronan Cassidy and goalkeeper Conor McEnaney for Saturday’s trip to Ballybofey to meet Ulster champions Donegal.

All five youngsters played prominent roles as the Red Hands won the U20 All-Ireland title for the second time in three years with a six-point victory over Kerry in Portlaoise last weekend. Aussie Rules target McElholm scored seven points from play and Cassidy scored five while Ardboe’s pacey wing-back O’Hare was recognised for a series of outstanding performances throughout the campaign.

“They’ll definitely add a bit of energy and value to the whole set-up,” said Tyrone manager Brian Dooher.

“We’ll look at that, but we’ll give them a wee bit of breathing space, a bit of time and get them in. A lot of them acquitted themselves very well during the U20 Championship and they’re ready for the next step up.”

Tyrone intend to settle the score with their hosts after Donegal edged them out of the Ulster Championship with a two-point win after extra-time in a thrilling semi-final. Dooher says topping the group and progressing straight to the All-Ireland quarter-finals is the target for the Red Hands. However, he added that Donegal are favourites to take pole-position in a group that also includes Cork and Clare.

“They’re Ulster champions and Division Two League champions, so they’re favourites,” said the former Tyrone skipper.

“You’re going to have to beat them to get to the top of the group for starters.”

Tyrone manager Brian Dooher
"Every week you move on, you’re in an improving situation," says Brian Dooher

Tyrone haven’t played since that loss to Donegal four weeks ago while Donegal came through extra-time and a penalty shootout against Armagh a fortnight ago.

Last season Tyrone defeated a disjointed Donegal side in Ballybofey but the return of Jim McGuinness as manager has reinvigorated a team now transformed and performing with a familiar style and swagger.

“Last year you had a different panel of players, never mind the management that changed,” said Dooher.

“You had players who had left the panel, who are back now. If you look at the 15 or 20 players that were used that day, they’re different from what will be used this weekend and their record in Ballybofey speaks for itself. There are very few teams that win Championship matches there.

“We were lucky enough to do it last year, but I think it’s a different team that we’re playing now from the one we played last year. Circumstances are completely different as well.”

Tyrone’s injury situation is steadily improving and while they remain some way off full-strength, there are improving prospects for a first appearance of the season for 2021 All-Ireland winners Conor Meyler and Frank Burns.

“They’re getting there, they’re moving up the ladder and every week is progress for them,” said Dooher.

“Every week you move on, you’re in an improving situation. You might have some boys shaping their way back and getting back to training, but they need to get the football and that’s the thing at this time of year.

“We have men only starting to come back here, but they need to get their football, and that’s the other challenge: How do you get a man up to speed quickly enough?

“But things are improving week-on-week in general. We have a bit to go yet, we still have men to get back, but that will come on in due course too hopefully.”