The Tyrone footballers started their All-Ireland defence in some style last weekend when they dispatched Armagh with no real difficulty and a high degree of confidence in a sun soaked Clones.
Tyrone have a side of irrefutable ballplayers who are all exceedingly comfortable with the ball in hand - and the way that Conor Gormley – who was lining out at full-back – was able to ghost up the field and show great composure to slot home his first ever goal for Tyrone showed us all we need to know about the amazing versatility in their squad.
Last year we had Joe McMahon converting from wing-forward to corner back on All-Ireland final day to pick up Tommy Walsh and do a serious man-marking job on the young Kerry tyro. And McMahon had already won a medal at full-back in 2005 just to reinforce his play-anywhere credo.
There are few sides, if any, which have such versatile players and it is a great asset for any manager.
The fact that Mickey Harte could bring on double All-Ireland winning captain Brian Dooher to steady the red hand ship when it hit stormy waters in the second half only reinforced the certainty that they have a panel of players that will take a lot of beating this summer.
The return to full-fitness of Stephen O’ Neill who hit 1-03 last Sunday is a massive boost to their scoring potential and if they can get Brian McGuigan back to being able to play seventy minutes of football too, they would look like the team most likely to lift Sam next September.
One thing that was extremely obvious last Sunday was how fit their team is in comparison to most county sides I have seen this season.
They are a very fit, focused, and hard-working side, and to beat them you have to go the full 15 rounds.
They defeated Derry and Dublin this year in league games in the last five minutes and the keep going right to the final whistle. Last year, they pulverised Kerry in the All-Ireland final on the run in.
To match them you have to be able to match their intensity and running power. And to be able to do that you need lots of juice in the tank. And we’re talking about 20 men here, not just fifteen. It will take a good panel of men to beat them.
The wing-forwards and wing-backs on the team that takes them down will have to be very fit and athletic men. To stick with Philip Jordan, Davy Harte, Ryan McMenamin, and the two McMahons as they break from defence is a tough gig, and to do so for 70 minutes requires tremendous levels of fitness and a phenomenal work-rate from the entire forward division.
If those men are not tracked and they create an over-lap, you are dead in the water.
Who can stop them winning back-to-back All-Irelands?
Two teams that will fancy their chances of doing so are in action this Sunday in Fitzgerald stadium in Killarney. Jack O’ Connor and his Kerry team will believe that they owe, and can repay Tyrone for their All-Ireland final defeats in 2005 and 2008. The current league champions have a fair few injury problems and we won’t know for certain until Sunday afternoon who their first choice midfield partnership will be. Players like Micheal Quirke, David Moran, Anthony Maher, and Tadhg Kennelly will be keen to get some game time in the absence of Seamus Scanlon and Kieran Donaghy.
Cork will fancy their chances this weekend and they have every right to do so as they are very strong down middle and have big strong mobile men all over the pitch. They beat Kerry 1-16 to 1-11 in last year’s Munster final and there is no reason to see why they can’t turn them over next Sunday either. And at 2-1 they represent good value. In the other championship games, you’d take Limerick to beat Clare and Fermanagh to have too much for Cavan.
Mayo’s Aidan O’ Shea’s exam diary in the Irish Times
We should all spare a thought for the young men and women of the country who started their exams on Wednesday morning after trying to study in the blistering heat of last weekend. One man who is going to have a very busy few weeks is young Aidan O’ Shea who is sitting his Leaving Cert in St Gerald’s college, Castlebar, as well as preparing for the Connacht semi-final on June 20 against Roscommon.
Just in case he did not have enough to do, the Breaffy man is also writing a witty exam diary every day in the Irish Times. I have enjoyed his musings all week; he asked the rhetorical question on Tuesday about whether he would be nervous sitting his first paper on Wednesday. “No. After playing in front of 84,000 people in Croke Park, what can a few questions on a sheet of paper, a copy and a biro do to you?”