National League Division One
Tyrone v Kerry
Sunday, Healy Park, 2pm
By Niall Gartland
DAVID Clifford, Paul Geaney and an injury-free James O’Donoghue. It’s not a bad full-forward line, but Tyrone boss Mickey Harte thinks home advantage could be an important factor in Sunday’s clash against Kerry.
It already looks like Tyrone have a real battle on their hands to salvage their Division One status following their lacklustre performance against Monaghan at the weekend.
The last time Tyrone played Kerry at Healy Park, on the final day of the league two years ago, they earned a surprisingly comfortable 1-16 to 0-14 victory. David Clifford was kept in reserve that day, and last year’s league and championship defeats to the Kingdom are obviously still fresh in the memory.
Tyrone have a tendancy to come out fighting when they really need the league points, however, so Mickey Harte is hopeful that they pick up two crucial league points with a gruelling set of fixtures ahead.
“There aren’t many full-forward lines that will be more difficult to deal with than the Kerry one, but that’s why we’re in this division – to learn how to deal with these sort of things.
“Kerry is Kerry, and they’re always a challenge. We always feel that we have a better chance of challenging them at Omagh than we have in Killarney or Tralee.
“We’ll have to depend on that, that it’s our home venue and we need to make some value out of that.
“Going on our performance against Monaghan, it doesn’t look very bright for us right now, but our challenge over the course of the week is to see how we can do better.”
Tyrone’s under-par performance against Monaghan can be explained at least in part by the absence of some key men.
Mattie Donnelly, Padraig Hampsey and Michael McKernan are injured while at the time of writing there’s still no movement one way or the other on the whole Cathal McShane saga.
Saturday night’s match did see the return to action of Peter Harte after his honeymoon, while Harte is hopeful that Ronan McNamee can play some part against Kerry after being withdrawn with a head injury against Monaghan.
“We’re not guaranteed to be missing Ronan McNamee. He was taken off as a precaution by the medics. I would still be optimistic that he would be available next week, but yes, Paudie Hampsey and Michael McKernan and these boys are all huge losses for us.”
Tyrone were in dire straits in the early stages of last year’s national league campaign, but turned things around considerably and were in touching distance of a place in the league semi-finals.
Harte hopes it’ll be a similar story this year.
“Safety is always the first goal anyway, that never changes. But then you want to do as well as you can.
“In 2017 and 2018 we had a good start and a bad finish and last year we had a bad start and a very good finish, so we were hoping that we would get a mix of the two.
“But it looks like it’s going to be a bit of an up and down season again. that’s it – two games played and one lost, and it takes us from the top of the table to a mid-table position.”
“There aren’t many full-forward lines that will be more difficult to deal with than the Kerry one.”