Red Hands skipper Hamspsey is wary of potential banana skin against Ernemen
TYRONE captain Padraig Hampsey has warned that an Ulster Championship opener against Fermanagh is a potential banana skin for the All-Ireland champions.
The Red Hands will begin the defence of their provincial title in a preliminary round tie against the Erne men, a notoriously difficult start to the northern series.
A team drawn in the preliminary round has gone on to win the title on just six occasions, although it has been done twice in the past four years – by Donegal in 2018 and Cavan in 2020.
Previously, only Cavan in 1945, Armagh in 2005 and Donegal (2011 and 2012) had managed to take the long route to the Ulster crown.
“Preliminary round is not easy, and there’s plenty of games to go to get to an Ulster final,” said Hampsey.
“But we’ll not look any further than Fermanagh. We know how tough it is in Ulster football to get past the first game, and our full focus will be on that one.
“Whenever you’re playing away it’s always tough to get a win, and the team that Fermanagh have, and the forwards that they have, they’ll be a tough team to beat.”
Another historical obstacle facing Tyrone is the fact that the county has never succeeded in retaining the All-Ireland title.
After the Sam Maguire Cup triumphs in 2003, ’05 and ’08, the Red Hands have failed to even reach the final in the following season.
“It would be nice to go and do that, but we know how hard it is even to get out of Ulster, never mind win another All-Ireland.
“We have some tough games to try and retain Ulster first.”
Another memorable Tyrone club championship has provided managers Feaergal Logan and Brian Dooher with emerging contenders for places in the 2022 squad.
Recently champions Dromore, who defeated Hampsey’s Coalisland in the final, could have a few more Red Hand representatives this year in addition to Niall Sludden and Peter Teague.
“They had a great year and they have a couple of great footballers, and I’m sure the likes of Emmet McNabb and a couple of others will probably get a run, and deservedly so. He was the stand-out player of the championship.
“It was another great championship, but very disappointing for ourselves, getting beaten in the final by Dromore.
“There’s plenty of players that have stood out in the Tyrone Championship this year, and I’m sure Brian and Feargal have had a look at them, and we’ll see a few new faces this year.”
The Tyrone skipper welcomed the return of the Dr McKenna Cup, which was won by the Red Hands the last time it was played in 2020.
The pre-season competition is set to make a comeback after being dropped from the schedule last year due to Covid, and will be used by the holders to blood a handful of new call-ups.
“We missed it last year, and we had to go straight into the National League.
“It was a tough one to just go straight into the League, especially with new management and problems with the preparations, but hopefully this year we’ll get the chance to see new players in the McKenna Cup and see what they’re about, and hopefully strengthen the panel up.”
Preliminary round: Fermanagh v Tyrone
Donegal v Armagh
Antrim v Cavan
Monaghan v Down
Derry v Fermanagh/Tyrone
Donegal/Armagh v Antrim/Cavan
Monaghan/Down v Derry/Fermanagh/Tyrone