Forward-thinking Tyrone minors must contain Monaghan attack
It's quite conceivable that Tyrone and Monaghan could meet three times in this year's Minor Football Championship, thanks to the advent of the provincial qualifiers and All-Ireland quarter-final back door.
Sunday's Ulster final will be their second clash of the series, Monaghan having secured a 3-8 to 0-13 first round win at Carrickmore several weeks ago.
The defending champions were vastly superior on that occasion, easing to a comfortable success that was described at the time by Tyrone manager Collie Holmes as a ‘four-point hammering'.
The Red Hands regrouped and made it to the decider with wins over Down and Derry, and Holmes is hoping that certain tweaks, including the introduction of a sweeper system, will have helped them close the gap on the holders.
“It was two months ago, and we have used it obviously as a reference point,” he said.
“We were very porous that day, and individually they got at us, got through us. We have taken those lessons on board.
“The individuals that they have, in particular Gallagher at number 11 and Irwin at 14, for me are two of the best Minor footballers that we have seen for quite a while. So they'll really test us like they did in Carrickmore.
“But that game was a reference for how we could improve, and two months down the line we have a chance to test it again, to see what we have learned.”
The challenge of containing a potent Monaghan attack is one thing, but equally important is Tyrone's ability to turn defence to attack and make their own offensive plays count.
“They're the top scorers across the Championship this year and last year, and we have to address that,” he added.
“It's also about how we get out an get our scores at the other end.
“It's that balance between being tight at one end and being creative at the other. It' some thing we have been working on in the last three weeks since the Derry match.”
One of the most intriguing aspects of under-age football is its capacity to provide a stage upon which previously unheard of talents can appear from nowhere and reach for the stars.
Tyrone's Luke Donnelly seized his opportunity in the semi-final, coming in for his first start to shoot down Derry with a stunning 1-6 salvo.
Holmes is hoping to see another unexpected hero at the Athletic Grounds this weekend.
“A lot of talk going into the game had been about two other players, Daniel Fullerton and Mark Devlin, and Luke came in and did it,” he said.
“Again, we would be expecting somebody else to step up the next day. It wouldn't be fair to put that expectation on Luke's shoulders again.
“He will obviously be well earmarked by Monaghan, the same way as we will approach their top men. But usually somebody else comes and sticks their hands up, we'll just be hoping it's one of ours and not one of theirs.”
Win or lose, Tyrone will go forward to the All-Ireland quarter-finals, but the guarantee of progression won't stifle their ambition to win a first Ulster title in seven years: “Listen, it's an Ulster final and Monaghan are reigning champions, and they have been playing like Ulster champions the whole way through the campaign.
“They haven't had a wobble, they haven't had a down patch, they go full-on for 65 minutes.
“They have gone through the front door of the Championship and they haven't looked back, whereas we have had our wobbles and our pauses.
“We have to get to their standards if we want to take what they currently have. At the minute, they're in the lead position, and we would hope to match them.”