Tyrone face stern test as Rossies deemed favourites in Under 21 semi

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Tyrone will travel to Sligo this coming Saturday to contest a first All Ireland Under 21 football championship semi final for the first time in almost a decade.

The noughties can already be reflected upon as the greatest ever era for Tyrone GAA and the memories of winning the Sam Maguire cup for the first time in the county’s history in 2003 was then followed up with a remarkable further two triumphs in 2005 and 2008. What really stands out though is the significance of the success of the O’Neill County at under 21 level prior to the breakthrough in the All Ireland Senior Football Championship.

Tyrone captured four successive Ulster Under 21 titles from 2000 to 2003, winning two All Ireland Under 21 titles in the same period (2000 & 2001). The confidence gained from those successes and the fact that so many players from those under 21 teams played integral roles in the senior successes in the years which followed, would indicate that gaining a winning mentality in the grade can play an important role in future senior championship challenges.

Since Tyrone have won the All Ireland Senior crown in 2008, the county have won one All Ireland minor title (2010), albeit the county did complete the minor and senior double in 2008. No Ulster under 21 title, never mind an All Ireland, has been won though since 2006. Significant?

There is already a train of thought within the county that it is indeed significant. The fact the county assembled such a high profile management team to include Fergal Logan, Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan – the latter duo of course being the only Tyrone men ever to captain an All Ireland senior win, says a great deal of the emphasis placed on this competition. Add to the equation Coalisland’s Peter Donnelly, whose record at under 21 provincial level is incredible – he has won three Ulster (and 1 All Ireland) Under 21 championship titles as a player and now 5 in a row as part of a management back-up team. The fact 2015 was his first in the Tyrone management ranks says a great deal as he is after serving four successive winning years with the Cavan under 21 side.

Tyrone's high profile Under 21 football management team Peter Canavan, Brian Dooher and Fergal Logan.

Tyrone’s high profile Under 21 football management team Peter Canavan, Brian Dooher and Fergal Logan. Click on image for EVENT PAGE set up by TYRONE GAA.

The current Tyrone squad is largely backboned by the Ulster minor championship winning side of 2012, the year in which they lost out to Meath in the All Ireland series. The All Ireland minor champions of that campaign, Dublin, are warm favourites to go all the way this season in the All Ireland Under 21 championship and they meet Munster champions, Tipperary, in the other semi final on Saturday.

Tyrone have produced very good wins in the Ulster series over Fermanagh (0-17 to 0-7) and Armagh (2-12 to 2-8) before a resilient display saw them deny a strongly fancied Donegal side in the provincial decider, by 1-11 to 0-13. Trillick’s Ruairi Brennan turned in a ‘man of the match’ display at centre-back for Tyrone in that game while Coalisland’s Padraig Hampsey has been excellent at full back in the campaign so far. Senior panelist, Owen Roes’ Cathal McShane, continues to show up well in midfield while Trillick’s Lee Brennan and Omagh’s Conor Meyler have starred in the attack. Dan McNulty was a big game performer in the Ulster final as target-man in attack while the return of Killyclogher’s Mark Bradley from an ongoing injury is a major boost too.

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Tyrone legend, Peter Canavan, has been very satisfied by the progress so far and is also well aware of the importance of the Under 21 grade for the county in future senior campaigns.

“We seen it in the county in the nineties when we enjoyed a run of Ulster and All Ireland Under 21 success in the early nineties and then followed up with some good years at senior level, albeit we just missed out on the All Ireland. The same rang true in the noughties when a brilliant Under 21 run was followed by unprecedented successes at senior level. The statistics would largely show the same for many counties too”, commented the All Ireland winning captain.

Massive support for Roscommon in Championship

There is no doubt that a first Ulster under 21 championship success since 2006 has provided a much needed shot in the arm in the county at present. Despite the exaggerated claims of doom and gloom for Tyrone football, the county has shown some solid form in 2015 at Senior level, winning the McKenna Cup and, despite suffering relegation, there were some very good performances along the way. A rise in the Tyrone support has been seen too in the Under 21 run and Canavan is well aware of how important it will be that the Red Hand fans come out in large numbers to support the team, especially after noting that Roscommon had some 5,000+ supporters at the Connacht final…

“Roscommon have enjoyed massive support in their Connacht Under 21 championship win and that appears to have really spurred them on. There is no doubt with the semi final in Markievicz Park that Roscommon will have massive support out again and we would urge the Tyrone faithful to make the journey as it could be a significant factor, particularly in a close game. Roscommon are being strongly tipped by most people to set up a final with Dublin so we know we are up against it and it will take a big display to get us over the line”.

Roscommon enter Saturday’s All Ireland under 21 semi final as “hot favourites” in the eyes of the bookies. They secured the Connacht crown with an impressive 3-14 to 3-11 win over Galway. They are not alien to reaching All Ireland finals either having made last year’s Under 21 decider as well as in 2012. The Connacht champions will feel that they are now ready to make the breakthrough with a side which is fancied even more than in the past few years. In Diarmuid Murtagh they have one of the sharpest forwards in the grade, he delivered 1-7 in the Connacht final. Cathal Compton has been an inspirational figure for them in midfield and overall they are a physically strong and imposing side which will make life difficult for Tyrone on Saturday.

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A big tie in prospect and, in the likelihood that reigning champions, Dublin, do emerge from the other semi final with a win, a win for Tyrone would provide a massive boost and the build-up to an All Ireland Under 21 final showdown with the Dubs would definitely see renewed belief and excitement around the county. This side have shown considerable mettle in such games so far and may just manage to achieve that feat!

The match will be Live on TG4 at 6pm on Saturday evening, with the Dublin v Tipperary game also on Live at 4pm on TG4.