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Tyrone will take a lot of beating on their home turf but we've done it before, says Monaghan stalwart Dermot Malone

Dermot Malone tackles Colm Cavanagh in the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final
Dermot Malone tackles Colm Cavanagh in the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final

BEATING Tyrone at Healy Park remains the toughest test in Ulster, says Dermot Malone, but the former Farney forward has been on Monaghan teams that have done it.

These counties have shared the stage so often in recent history. Remember Sean Cavanagh-Conor McManus in 2013? Remember the double-header in 2018? Monaghan edged out Mickey Harte’s side by two points in Omagh after Vinny Corey, now the Monaghan manager, scored his county’s crucial goal but Tyrone avenged the loss in a nail-biting All-Ireland semi-final.

“If you were picking the toughest task in Ulster football I think it is going to Omagh for the first round of the Championship,” says Malone who retired from playing last year and is now managing the Monaghan minors who begin their campaign against Fermanagh at Brewster Park on Saturday (3pm).

“It always comes down to the day and I do think Tyrone will take a lot of beating on their home turf but it’s always a battle. Both teams, and the players individually, know each other very well at this stage. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and ultimately whatever team turns up on the day will come out with the victory.

“There wasn’t a whole pile of difference in these teams in the League – they didn’t make the final and they weren’t relegated – so how much stock you put in that I don’t know. If you were going by League performance you’d have assumed that Mayo would have beaten Roscommon last week and that didn’t happen.

“Monaghan are coming in slightly under the radar which isn’t a bad place to be and Tyrone are maybe looking at Ulster titles and even further towards the All-Ireland. It’ll be an intriguing battle and the result will tell us a lot about where both teams are at.”

Tyrone cantered home against 13-man Monaghan in the Division One meeting. Goals from Peter Harte (a penalty) and Cormac Quinn laid the foundations for an eight-point victory.

“I was very impressed with Tyrone,” said Malone.

“Monaghan didn’t turn up on the day but I thought Tyrone were excellent. They moved the ball well, they varied their play a lot – they put a few direct balls into the square – so I was impressed with their style of play. I was impressed with their tackling and their kick-out strategies… They’re motoring really well.

“An awful lot of their players have an All-Ireland medal in their back pocket. They have got that second-season out of the way last year and they’re looking back to their best. Looking at Tyrone, they probably have one eye a wee bit further down the road and they’ll be really, really hard to stop this year.”

The Castleblayney Faughs clubman insists that veterans like Conor McManus, Darren Hughes have “loads still in the tank” and manager Corey has brought through a batch of younger players this season including Thomas McPhillips, Ryan O’Toole and Karl Gallagher who could all get Championship debuts on Sunday.

“They got a lot of game-time during the League and they’re not far off nailing down their starting positions,” said Malone.

“It’s not easy blooding in new players like that and they have all got games under their belt and done really well. I saw them across a lot of games and they all have individual strengths and they have progressed massively over the last 12 months.”