Tyrone still targeting top spot in All-Ireland group says Kilpatrick

Red Hands’ focus on the Rebel County after 14-point victory over Clare sets up Group Three finale

Conn Kilpatrick lashed home Tyrone's first goal against Kildare last Sunday. Pic Philip Walsh.
Conn Kilpatrick made an impact when he came off the bench for Tyrone last Sunday. Pic Philip Walsh.

Tyrone midfielder Conn Kilpatrick has not ruled out topping Group 3 of the All-Ireland SFC as the Red Hands turn their focus to next Saturday’s clash with Cork

Kilpatrick was one of four All-Ireland winners on the bench for Tyrone’s round-two showdown with Clare in Omagh last Sunday. Peter Harte, Frank Burns and Cathal McShane were also held in reserve.

Joe Oguz and the hard-working Brian Kennedy manned the midfield but Edendork clubman Kilpatrick reacted well to not starting and made the impact his manager would have hoped for when he was introduced after 50 minutes.

He scored a point as Tyrone took control of the game and made a determined run to break down the kickout that followed his score. The ball was worked to Darragh Canavan, who danced through the Clare defence and smashed a shot into the net that sealed a vital win.

Tyrone will face Cork in either Tullamore or Portlaoise on Saturday week, with the venue dependent on the result of this weekend’s Joe McDonagh Cup final between Laois and Offaly.

The winners of the McDonagh final will host Cork in an All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-final, with that match forming a double-header with the Tyrone-Cork game.

“There’s a 35-man squad and everybody is putting their hand up,” said Kilpatrick philosophically.

“Any day you’re in the 26, nevermind the starting team, is a good day. It’s all about coming on and making an impact and then going hard at training. If you do that the chances will eventually come and I’ll put the head down now – same as everybody else – because the jerseys are still up for grabs for the Cork game.”

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Michael O'Neill on the attack as Tyrone take control in the second half against Clare. Picture: Seamus Loughran (seamus loughran)

It will take victory over the Rebels to really ignite interest in a Tyrone side that has been consistently inconsistent over the past year.

Morale-boosting wins have been followed by confidence-draining losses and the empty seats in the stand at Healy Park last Sunday reflected the low expectations since the county won the Sam Maguire just three years ago.

Beating Cork will bring the red and white flags out of houses again but Cork beat Donegal and Donegal beat Tyrone… So where does that leave the Red Hands?

“I don’t know,” said Kilpatrick.

“It was a slow start against Clare. It ebbed and flowed a bit, they had their purple patches and so did we but we got to grips with it and the boys up front worked really hard which put the defence under less pressure.

“Collectively we still have things to work on, but we played some good football and we’ll need that again because we’re looking forward to a great game against Cork. Wherever it is, I’m sure it’ll be a good contest.

“We’ll go and try and get a result and Donegal still have to play Clare who will put it up to them. Hopefully we can get through and finish top of the table.”

Tyrone’s 14-point win over Clare has given them the best scoring difference (+7) in the group and if they beat Cork and Donegal see off Clare then three sides will finish on four points and top spot will be decided on scoring difference.

“It’s upwards for us from here,” said Kilpatrick confidently.

“We came looking for a result – we knew what Clare would bring and we got off to a slower start than we wanted to, but we got the win and. Every week we have to keep building and we have a big task in front of us now.

“At the minute, Cork are the stand-out performers in our group.

“I think everybody in the country knew that Cork would give Donegal their fill of it and Donegal have obviously been at the top of Ulster this year. Cork have been coming and they have put on good displays throughout the year.”