Tyrone search for missing consistency as Group 3 comes to the boil with Cork clash at O’Moore Park

Red Hands haven’t won back-to-back this season but need to do so to claim automatic quarter-final spot

Ciaran Daly of Tyrone celebrates his side's victory in the 2022 EirGrid All-Ireland U20 Football Championship Final against Kildare.
Ciaran Daly was an All-Ireland U20 winner with Tyrone in 2022 and hopes to have the same success at senior level

TYRONE need to put back-to-back wins together - something they haven’t managed in over a year - by beating Cork on Saturday to have a chance of topping Group Three.

The group winners automatically qualify for the quarter-final stage and victory for Tyrone in Portlaoise (3pm) would be enough for them if Clare do them a favour by beating Donegal. If Donegal and Tyrone win, they and Cork would finish on four points in a three-way tie and the issue would then be decided by scoring difference.

To make that happen the Red Hands need to follow up their victory over Clare by beating the Rebels but they haven’t managed two wins in-a-row this season.

“We want to top the group but we have to get the two points first and foremost and go from there,” said Tyrone half-forward Ciaran Daly, one of a number of young players making his mark at senior level this season.

“We haven’t got a back-to-back win this year so that’s our main focus now. We need to beat Cork and see what happens in the other game.”

Tyrone and Cork have met four times previously in Championship football. The Rebels won the first two (1973 and 2009) but the Red Hands evened the score with consecutive wins in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Cork’s two wins both came in All-Ireland semi-finals and the first was 51 years ago. Tyrone had won their third Ulster title in the summer of 1973 but travelled the long and winding road to Croke Park as underdogs to face a Cork team that had beaten Kerry by nine points in the Munster final.

Cork scored five goals in that win against the Kingdom and they ran in five more against the Ulster champions. Pat King and John Early netted for Tyrone but the Rebels went on to win the Sam Maguire.

The counties’ paths didn’t cross again until 2009. Tyrone were the reigning All-Ireland champions then but the Rebels went after them from the throw-in and even the loss of midfielder Alan O’Connor to a red card couldn’t put them off their stride.

Tyrone's Cathal McShane and Cork's James Loughrey battle it out on Saturday. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Tyrone's Cathal McShane and Cork's James Loughrey battle it out during the 2019 meeting between the counties. Picture by Philip Walsh.

Tyrone have nine survivors who played in their county’s first Championship win against the Munstermen in 2018. It was a round four Qualifier at Portlaoise and goals from Connor McAliskey, Ronan O’Neill and Mark Bradley saw Mickey Harte’s side cruise to a 16-point success.

It was much closer a year later when the counties met in the ‘Super 8′ stage. Tyrone were seven points adrift before half-time but a second half fightback and goals from Cathal McShane and Peter Harte got them over the line and into the last four.

So it’s all-square going into Saturday’s game and on current form there isn’t much between the two counties. Cork lost their first three games in Division Two but only Kerry (in a competitive Munster Championship semi-final) have beaten them since and they served notice of the confidence and ability in the side by beating Clare in Ennis and then unbeaten Donegal in a thriller on home soil.

Meanwhile, Tyrone did enough to stay in Division One but they were consistently inconsistent in the League. In Ulster they pushed eventual champions Donegal to extra-time at the semi-final stage but were well beaten by Jim McGuinness’s men in their group opener in Ballybofey.

They bounced back with a 14-point win against Clare and the challenge for the 2021 All-Ireland champions is to follow it up with a victory at O’Moore Park.

“We knew we had a job to do against Clare,” said All-Ireland U20-winner Daly.

“We knew we had to get the win and we pushed on at the end which we were very pleased with.

“We had to respect Clare, they’re a good team and they put it up to us in the first 40 minutes but the bench came on and they did their job and they pushed us over the line.

“We have had U20s coming into the squad and they’re driving the thing on but we know we have a lot of hard work ahead of us now against Cork.”