GAA Football

Tyrone's Michael McKernan: dangers lurk against Antrim underdogs

Tyrone's Hugh Pat McGeary and Michael McKernan with Shane McGuigan of Derry during the Ulster Senior Football Championship match at Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday May 12 2019. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.
Francis Mooney

Tyrone defender Michael McKernan doesn't accept that tomorrow's Ulster SFC clash with Antrim is the foregone conclusion that has become the word on the street.

He's aware of the dangers that lurk at the Athletic Grounds, and of the very real possibility that the underdogs could exploit the slightest vulnerability in the approach of last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists.

The Coalisland clubman insists that the Red Hands must be clinical and thorough, leaving nothing to chance in their pursuit of a provincial title.

“Anything can happen on any given day and if you don't prepare right and aren't focussed you could get caught,” he warned.

“They will push us hard like Derry did and no doubt they will be fit and we will have to play well to get past them.

“We will be raging hot favourites again against Antrim but there is no way that we will be taking them lightly.

“We have trained hard for this game and we will give Antrim the respect that they deserve. It's the Ulster Championship and anything can happen as Fermanagh showed last year when deservedly reaching the final.”

Discipline is one area that Tyrone will be looking to improve upon, having coughed up a high number of free-kick scoring opportunities to Derry in the preliminary round.

“We have focussed on the fact that we gave away a lot of frees against Derry and that is something that we will have to improve on, the discipline in the tackle needs to be a lot better.

“We need to up our level of performance a bit, as going forward the display in the preliminary round against Derry won't be good enough.”

For the second successive tie, Tyrone face a Division Four opponent, but as they discovered against the Oak Leafers, Championship football can be a great leveller.

Derry were ahead and threatening a shock late in the game at Healy Park, before a late surge settled the outcome in favour of the home side.

“Their goal I suppose came as a wake-up call and we had time to react and bounce back and get the scores that took us through,” said last year's young footballer of the year nominee.

“You know coming into the Ulster Championship that no game was going to be easy. I live along with two Derry lads in Belfast and they were both in the senior panel at the beginning of the year and they were telling me about the training that they were doing so we knew that they were going to match our fitness.”

Last year's first round defeat to Monaghan sent Tyrone into the Qualifiers at the initial stage, but they regrouped to go all the way to the All-Ireland final.

This time around, however, the direct route is the preferred option for Mickey Harte's men.

“Last year in the first round against Monaghan we were maybe a wee bit lackadazy going into it and they caught us and we weren't going to let that happen again. We are just focussed on one game at a time and we don't look ahead of ourselves at all.

“Derry always threatened and they very nearly caught is in the first attack and there was always a goal in them. We stuck at it though and I felt that our substitute bench played a key role in getting us over the line.”

A more condensed provincial series means the games are coming thick and fast, at two-week intervals, and McKernan is hoping to build momentum along the way.

“It's a game that is coming quickly after the Derry game but I prefer it that way. You can't beat playing football, it's better than training anytime. The training ahead of the game has been intense and sharp and everybody is looking forward to it.”


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