By Shaun Casey
TYRONE MASTERS aim to become members of a fairly exclusive club if they can put back-to-back All-Ireland football titles together this weekend.
The Red Hand over-40s are facing Dublin this Saturday in Ballinagh (throw-in 4pm) in a repeat of last year’s decider, which the Red Hands won 2-9 to 1-8.
The hope of the side is to replicate the Tyrone county minors of 194748 and the u-21s of 1991/92 and 2000/2001 in successfully defending their national crown.
Everybody in the squad is looking forward to meeting that challenge head on in the rematch with the Dubs, according to manager Damian Leonard.
“It’s not going be easy, Dublin have a lot of good (ex) county players on their panel. It was a tight game (last year), we got off to a good lead and then they came back at us, then we got a few points at the end of the game when we needed them to get over the line.
“There’s not too much between the two teams to be honest, they’re probably the best two teams in the Masters series the last two or three years.
“We’ve already played them this year down in Inniskeen and we beat them, but it was another tight game and we just got over the line and no more.
“We know plenty about them but they’d a couple injured the last day, we’d a couple injured the last day, so if everybody’s back it should be a cracker of a final.”
Tyrone are sweating over the fitness of three-time All-Star winner and the 2005 Player of the Year Stephen O’Neill, who picked up a hamstring injury in their semi-final win over Clare.
Leonard admited: “He hasn’t trained much with us to be honest; we’ve gave him as much time as possible to recover so he hasn’t really done much training, we’re just keeping an eye on him.
“It’s hard to tell (if he’ll be ready), but in fairness they might be over 40 years of age but some of them are in great shape.”
O’Neill is just one of Tyrone’s All-Ireland senior winners from the noughties involved with the Masters as captain Conor Gormley and Ciaran Gourley are key members. Fermanagh legend Martin McGrath is also involved.
Damian explained: “We have Martin McGrath from Fermanagh. Fermanagh don’t have a Masters team so we can take someone from outside Tyrone, you’re allowed four players, so Marty has joined the panel this year as well.
“His mother is from Tyrone so that was a good help!
“We would have a good turnover of players every year.
“We’ve Ollie McCreesh in there, Martin Grimes has come in, Damian McDevitt, a man from Naomh Eoin, we’d have six or seven new boys and we probably lost six or seven from last year.
“There’s a good interest up here but there’s a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to just get them out.
“We’re all self-funding, we don’t get grants from nobody. The Tyrone County Board, we’re very grateful we get the use of Garvaghey all the time to train.
“But there’s a good buzz around the place, we get plenty of support and we have a new sponsor on board this year, he’s from America, Brian Early of Emerald Steel, he’s been a great help to us. We have two or three other sponsors as well and every bit is needed.”