Tyrone captain Padraig Hampsey set to take on Armagh star Rian O'Neill
TYRONE captain Padraig Hampsey is likely to be handed the tough task of marking Armagh's brilliant full-forward Rian O'Neill in Sunday's Division One clash at the Athletic Grounds.
The Crossmaglen lad tortured the Dublin defence in Croke Park last Saturday night, netting the Orchardmen's first goal in their convincing 2-15 to 1-13 victory to back up his excellent performances in 2021.
Tyrone's 2019 Allstar full-back Ronan McNamee, who was a nominee for the role last year too, is ruled out due to a niggling injury, having sat out the opening League draw against Monaghan, with Eglish's versatile attacker Conor McKenna also set to miss out again.
However, given that Hampsey got the better of Cavan's Thomas Galligan, Donegal skipper Michael Murphy, Monaghan star Conor McManus, Kerry's Sean O'Shea, and Mayo's Tommy Conroy last season, the Coalisland man won't be fazed by the prospect of facing even the excellent O'Neill.
McNamee and McKenna will be looking at the home game against Kildare on Sunday February 20 for their earliest appearance in this year's Division One, it seems.
"They won't be involved for the Armagh match," said Tyrone joint-manager Brian Dooher. "They are working away, they are on a programme to come back and play but they are going in the right direction which is the good thing and whenever they are ready, they will be introduced."
Even without those two Tyrone still fielded 10 of their All-Ireland Final line-up for that first League game, which pleased Dooher after a short pre-season and only two matches in the McKenna Cup:
"It was important to get those boys back out on the field and give them game-time, the ones who didn't get the McKenna Cup.
"I suppose we are a wee bit behind the curve in terms of a preparation and fitness point of view. That game will stand to them going forward.
"I think we stood up well at the end, with the amount of tackles and turnovers, and you have to give all the credit to the players."
Mattie Donnelly came off the bench in the 0-9 apiece draw with Monaghan, while All-Star midfielder Brian Kennedy and talented attackers Darragh Canavan and Paul Donaghy were also brought on, so the Red Hands have decent options.
Ardboe's Michael O'Neill, another All-Ireland Final starter, might make a first appearance of the season against Armagh, bringing defensive nous and tackling ability to the fray, with Niall Kelly and Ben McDonnell also pressing for game-time.
The Tyrone management handed full League debuts to forwards Nathan Donnelly and Conor Shields, both of whom performed well, and Dooher insisted that they can continue to blood players even in this highly competitive Division One:
"It's hard to get the balance but the way we intend to blood players is performing in training - and if you can compete in training we have no issues in throwing anyone in.
"People might say it's the deep end but it's not. We have to get our training up to a level where it replicates matches and that's where we want to be. And once these people are performing in training they will perform in matches."
Tyrone's own first choice full-forward, 2019 Allstar Cathal McShane, failed to score from play, missing a couple of early chances on a tough afternoon against Monaghan's excellent Conor Boyle, but Dooher was still pleased with his performance, explaining:
"Cathal won some great ball but we hadn't the men coming off him we needed. The ground conditions were heavier from a turning point of view and he'll learn from that and get better from that but we have a bit of work to do getting the proper support up once that ball goes into him."
The delivery to both McShane and Rian O'Neill, and how they fare when they receive possession, could be key to the outcome of Sunday's encounter.