Monaghan v Tyrone: another close encounter expected in Ulster Minor football final
Tomorrow's Ulster Minor Football Championship final could well produce a cracker between two teams that have nurtured a simmering rivalry over the past few months.
Holders Monaghan and Tyrone have already met twice in competitive fixtures, setting the scene perfectly for an enticing title decider at the Athletic Grounds.
Back in April, the Red Hands won the Minor League final with an extra-time victory at Glen, but the tables were turned when they met in the Championship at Carrickmore a month later, with the Farney lads running out comfortable winners with a four points margin that was generously flattering to the home side.
Monaghan are the form team, with quality all over the field and a handful of survivors from last year's title winning side, including ace attackers Karl Gallagher and Jason Irwin, their captain.
Having fired five goals past Donegal in the semi-final, including a Liam McDonald hat-trick, they go into the decider with proven firepower and a positive mentality as they attempt to become the first Farney side to retain the Ulster MFC title since 1948.
Tyrone have undertaken some tactical realignment since conceding three goals when the sides last met, introducing a sweeper system which provided increased defensive security as they recovered through the Qualifiers to see off Down and Derry.
Clear leaders in the roll of honour with 23 titles, the Red Hands have not lifted the trophy since 2012, and if they are to bridge that seven-year gap, a season's best in terms of performance will be required.
Midfielder Michael McGleenan and centre back and skipper Niall Devlin are key cogs, while they have some talented finishers in their attacking unit.
Mark Devlin, Daniel Fullerton and Luke Donnelly have all sparkled at different times, but if they can all hit form together on this one crucial occasion, Tyrone's bid to dethrone the champions will ignite.
However, they are set to come up against a well organised defensive cohort built around Eoin Duffy, Shane Hanratty and Eoin Duffy, who have grown in stature as the campaign has progressed.
“We have to do our own job and hopefully the lads will be well enough versed in what their own jobs are to get settled and get into the game early,” said Tyrone manager Collie Holmes.
“There's definitely high standards within the group and in the last three or four games they're starting to show a bit of leadership and that they're ready to meet those challenges as Tyrone footballers.”
Both sides will advance to the All-Ireland quarter-finals, and Holmes is hoping his players are ready for the demands they are facing.
“July is a big month, because we have an Ulster final and then a game two weeks after that. The lads are enjoying their football and this is the time of year you want to play it.
“We have set high standards for the lads, we did a lot of strength and conditioning work pre-Christmas.
“We got ourselves up and running in the League, and it's about getting the lads to the standard of what it is to be a Tyrone player at U17 level.”
Monaghan boss Mark Counihan expects the toughest challenge of the season to date.
“The Donegal game, it was a very tough opening to it. we knew Donegal were a very good team with a good spread of forwards. It took us a while to get to grips with them.
“We expect Tyrone to be a step ahead of that again, so we know, from the get-go, we're going to have to be tuned in and switched on,” he said.
“It stands at one-all, and they have been very close encounters. I'd say this one on Sunday will be no different.”