Tyrone have table-topping aspirations ahead of clash with Cork

The Rebels know a draw will be enough for them in Tullamore

Darragh Canavan was limited to a couple of moments of class as Tyrone and Donegal battled it out at Celtic Park. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Darragh Canavan will be Tyrone's go-to man in Tullamore on Saturday Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

All-Ireland SFC Group 3, round three

Tyrone v Cork (Saturday, Glenisk O’Connor Park, 3pm, live on GAAGO)

THE permutations tell us that any one of three teams can top Group 3 of the All-Ireland SFC group series, but Tyrone know that if they defeat Cork by a similar margin to Donegal’s expected win over Clare they’ll finish first and secure a lucrative quarter-final place.

Head-to-head is the first consideration in the event of two teams finishing level in a group whereas score difference will be the deciding factor should three or more teams end up locked on the same points total.

To finish top the Red Hands will have to put victories back-to-back for the first time in well over a year, a worrying measure of their inconsistency since the 2021 Sam Maguire Cup triumph.

Glenisk O’Connor Park in Tullamore will be heaving with Rebel supporters today due to Cork’s double-bill involvement in the All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-final against Joe McDonagh Cup winners Offaly, Tyrone’s meagre support not expected to exceed the disappointing turn-outs so far this year.

The Munster men go into this tie on a high following their victory over Donegal at Páirc Uí Rinn with their destiny very much in their own hands as group leaders.

A draw will be enough for them to finish top and avoid the fixtures congestion of the preliminary quarter-finals.

Victory for Tyrone, however, could see them claim that prized ticket to the last eight, but they’ll want to rack up a sizeable winning margin given their narrow advantage over Donegal.

Managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher will be looking for a keener cutting edge up front than their side has shown to date.

A 14-point victory over Clare left many questions unanswered, two goals from corner-back Niall Devlin and a late scoring burst from the Canavan brothers and Mattie Donnelly masking issues arising from a lack of confidence and conviction.

On the plus side, Tyrone haven’t conceded a goal in their last three Championship games, and a Cork side that netted three times in their Páirc Uí Rinn ambush of group favourites Donegal will not expect to be handed those sort of breakaway opportunities in the Midlands this afternoon.

Nevertheless, they have the forwards to trouble their Ulster opponents in Brian Hurley and Chris Óg Jones, while the incisive bursts of the dynamic Sean Powter are a valuable energy source for John Cleary’s improving side.

Padraig Hampsey is likely to be handed the role of shadowing top scorer Hurley, while Ciaran Daly could be the man tasked to track Powter.

Veteran midfielder Ian Maguire will be a key man in the crucial battleground of the middle third for a Rebel side that has lost just one of its last eight League and Championship games – a six-point defeat to Kerry in the Munster semi-final.

That reversal hasn’t dented the confidence of a team growing in self-belief with every game, already assured of progression to the knock-outs stage of the All-Ireland series and needing just a draw to claim top spot in the group.

Cork are the only team in the section with their destiny in their own hands, but can Tyrone find the big performance that the GAA world has been waiting for?

Darragh Canavan and Darren McCurry, should they both hit form and benefit from a quality supply of ball, can hurt the Munster men on the scoreboard.

That will require cohesion, sustained hard work and a measure of good fortune, with the promptings of Mattie Donnelly, Kieran McGeary, Michael McKernan and midfielder Brian Kennedy at the heart of the Red Hands’ search for form.

“Everybody is still alive until the last game, and any of the three teams of the four can still make it, so it’s all up for grabs,” said joint-manager Brian Dooher.

“We’re just looking forward to getting out against Cork, getting another performance and trying to get another two points. Wherever that takes us, so be it.

“Anybody can get through, and there’s no better way of going in to the last weekend of it, but all we can do is look after ourselves, look after our own performance.

“It will be a very stiff challenge against Cork, given the two performances that they have had now, the performance that they had against Donegal, and as we know, there’s not too many teams that have put up their hand against them this year.

“It’s a big step up against Cork, but we’ll give as good account of ourselves as we can.”

This will be only the fifth Championship meeting of the counties, Tyrone having come out on top in the last two – a 3-20 to 0-13 All-Ireland quarter-final success in 2018 followed by a tighter preliminary quarter-final a year later which they won by 2-15 to 2-12.

If they can reach their potential and fully reflect their quality for the first time this season, the Red Hands can make it three in-a-row.