A new age rivalry for Tyrone and Derry
Ulster U17 Football Championship semi-final: Derry v Tyrone (tomorrow, Athletic Grounds, 7pm)
IT'S a rivalry that's gone soft at senior level in recent years, but Derry have thrown enough big punches at Tyrone in the underage grades recently to feel they've had the upper hand.
The Oak Leafers, who won the Ulster U20 title last week, have been in the last three provincial minor finals and have overcome Tyrone en-route to the 2016 and '17 deciders.
Yet it is the Red Hands who once more carry the favourites tag heading for Armagh tomorrow evening, having comfortably come through the front door and looked impressive in the process.
Galbally man Cormac Quinn is one of five survivors from the U17 squad that won the inaugural All-Ireland last year, and after shackling Down's chief threat in Shealan Johnston, he's likely to be detailed to pick up the in-form Enda Downey.
The Lavey youngster has been the hub of Derry's attacking play in their longer route to the last four, having availed of the back door after a gripping series of games.
Derry's one definite injury absentee is Ronan Lee, who would quite possibly have started the game but is out with a broken wrist, though Adam Canavan returns from suspension.
They beat favourites Monaghan in a Celtic Park classic first up, edging it in extra-time before they took the same road against Cavan, but couldn't hold out in the extra 20 minutes.
Comfortable wins over Fermanagh and Armagh saw them reach the semi-final, where Tyrone had been resting after impressive displays against Donegal and Down.
Collie Holmes' side had gone to Ballybofey and hit 5-12, though the minor league finalists will be down three of their starting team from the eight-point victory over the Mournemen.
Full-back Lorcan McBride suffered a broken ankle in that game and is out for the rest of 2018, while a broken finger also rules out centre-forward Daniel Fullerton, who hit 1-5 in Páirc Esler.
Kildress' man mountain Tiernan Mackle also opted off the panel in the aftermath of that game, having become a central figure on the inside forward line.
None have been more central, though, than Mark Hayes. The highly rated Killyclogher man has hit 3-6 from play across the two games, and his goal against Down was a mark of class, beating four men before finishing.
When the sides met in the league back in March they drew 2-9 apiece, but conditions and personnel will be barely recognisable from that day to this.
“I've watched that again to see if I saw anything,” said Tyrone boss Holmes.
“A gale force wind up in Garvaghey on a 3G pitch with half our team missing and 5 or 6 off Derry's team, you wonder why you watch it for an hour.”
Both sides have had more than a month since their last competitive game and with the safety net of a back door now removed, Holmes says he's enjoyed the lift in pace in recent weeks.
“When you've a game six or seven weeks away, you do down tools a bit. You can't keep them 100 per cent flat out. It's been nice to ramp it up the last three or four weeks.
“As exams have finished and more boys have come back in, there's been more energy. And it's Tyrone-Derry, and Derry have such a good record at this level, it's something the boys really want to get their teeth into.
“The shadow boxing's off. There's no more safety net, if you're beat, you're out and that's a big element to it. We've had that safety net and they've obviously done well through it. It really comes to whether you want to be back in Owenbeg or Garvaghey next Wednesday night.”
Derry showed real grit against both Monaghan and Cavan, and there's a reasonable chance they could be bound for a third bout of extra-time – but you feel Tyrone will prevail in the end.