Tyrone travel to Newbridge this weekend for their crunch Round 3 qualifier clash with Kildare in an intriguing encounter that could go either way given the current form of both sides.
Mickey Harte’s men had four points to spare over Longford last weekend while Kildare travelled to Belfast and came away with a big win over a plucky Antrim outfit.
The last time Kildare welcomed a top-tier side to St Conleth’s Park was the now infamous ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ scandal in 2018 where they knocked Mayo out of the championship and Cian O’Neill’s men will be confident that they can repeat that giant-killing feat this weekend.
Former All-Ireland winner, Owen Mulligan, is fearful that a giant-killing may be on the cards this weekend due to the multiple question marks hanging over Tyrone’s heads.
Mulligan believes that Tyrone currently look off-colour which leaves them vulnerable heading to Newbridge on Saturday evening. If they do manage to lose to Kildare, Mulligan believes the knives will be out for Mickey Harte.
“Don’t win by enough and you are a poor team. It’s hard to know where we are with Tyrone at the minute. There are still loads of question marks around them.
“When Mickey started running the bench the arse fell out of it a bit and Longford ended up posting a scoreline that definitely flattered them. Tyrone for their part look like a side not happy in their own skin. I see too many long faces coming out of changing rooms after games.
“It all looks like too much hard work for them at present.
“A trip to Kildare on Saturday night isn’t a nice place to go to start feeling better about yourself.
“A win is a must for Tyrone or the knives will be out for Harte. It’s very much a case of a win in ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ for Tyrone this weekend.”
Tyrone looked in good shape heading into the championship having adopted a new style utilising the long-ball into Cathal McShane. They went on to win their final four leagues games including defeating Dublin in Croke Park as confidence grew that they could make it back to an All Ireland final this year.
However, they came completely unstuck against Donegal in an Ulster semi-final where Declan Bonner’s men shut down Tyrone’s attacking gameplan and ultimately came away with a four-point win.
Donegal have continued in their rich vein of form, defeating Cavan in last week’s Ulster final and currently look like the form team in the country. Mulligan was impressed with Donegal in last week’s final, in particular, by their firepower up front. Donegal kicked 1-24 in the game and Mulligan believes only Dublin can rival them in terms of personnel who can kick scores.
“Scoring 24 points in a championship match, never mind a final, takes some doing.
“This is a major weapon Donegal have coming into the business end of the championship, to have the ability to shoot confidently and freely over the bar. With so many players able to slot them from so many positions, Donegal are a real threat going forward.
“It is a breath of fresh air. Apart from the Dubs, I don’t believe there’s a team in Ireland with so many players in their starting XV capable of converting these sort of chances, which is a major plus.”
They have all the firepower they need up front but Mulligan believes Donegal can be found out defensively as shown by Cavan who scored 2-16 last weekend. The former All-Star also feels that if teams can shut down the influence of Donegal’s marauding wing-backs they won’t score as much.
“Tyrone scored 15 points and Cavan racked up a massive 2-16.
“Declan Bonner has to sit up and take note though. When teams move the ball fast through the hands and come off the shoulder, Donegal were cut open several times on Sunday. Cavan got in for the scores with direct running at pace in the second half.
“Donegal’s first-half performance against Tyrone and Cavan was breathtaking, full of energy and played at a high tempo. Teams have to match this or they too will find themselves with too big of a margin to claw back in the second half. Ryan McHugh and Eoghan Bán Gallagher are key to Donegal’s plans and if teams can single these two players out and stop them linking up with the attack, this will stop them leaking scores to Donegal.”
Overall, Mulligan believes Donegal are the only team that have shown any promise this year in stopping the ‘drive for five’.
“After sweeping Tyrone aside in the Ulster semi-final, Donegal turned it up a notch on Sunday and by half time the writing was on the wall for Cavan. To score 1-24 in an Ulster final was a signal of intent. They also missed three goal chances in the first half, which could have been embarrassing for Cavan.
“It used to be Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty who were trusted with all the scoring duties and if you marked them, Donegal would struggle. Now they’re blessed with scorers from all positions. All of their forwards scored on Sunday. Ryan McHugh, Paddy McGrath and Eoghan Bán Gallagher never stopped all evening. Jamie Brennan was his usual classy self and I’m really starting to enjoy watching him light up the Championship.
“We are starting to sit up and take notice of Donegal and that question is starting to be asked, are they number one contenders to stop the ‘drive for five’. At this early stage, I believe they’re the only ones that are showing any promise.”