Ronan McNamee has dismissed suggestions the Derry-Tyrone rivalry has lost any of its intensity despite the Red Hands’ recent dominance over the Oak Leafers.
Mickey Harte’s men defeated Damian Barton’s team five times last season, including May’s one-sided Championship stroll in Celtic Park which saw Tyrone leading 3-08 to 0-06 at half-time en route to a 3-14 to 0-12 victory.
Indeed Derry have to go back to February 2011 for their last victory over Tyrone and this season’s poor league campaign, which saw relegation to Division Three confirmed despite a final day victory over Fermanagh in Brewster Park, has hardly silenced the Oak Leaf doubters.
It leaves Tyrone as almost odds-on favourites to progress to the last four but Aghyaran clubman McNamee is expecting a clash every bit as intense as some of the most famous down the years despite Derry’s recent troubles.
“Derry were not a million miles off last year,” explained McNamee ahead of the May 28th Ulster Championship quarter-final.
“They were a kick away from facing Galway in the All Ireland quarter-finals and you would have put your house on them giving Galway a good game in Croke Park. People talked about Tipperary being the ‘fairytale’ story last season but it could easily have been Derry.
“People tend to forget that. They watched Tipperary getting to the All Ireland semi-final and forget the route they took and the fact Derry were beating them a minute or two before the final whistle.
“For anybody who would say Derry are not to be compared to the ‘good’ teams, they took Dublin to Celtic Park three years ago in the League and beat them. They got to a league final as well, albeit they didn’t win it. They beat Kerry that year as well and that team hasn’t changed much since then.
“Boys like Mark Lynch were kicking points over then and they will be kicking points over in three weeks, so I don’t know why people would get the idea that the rivalry has tailed off on either side because, in my opinion, it hasn’t.”
The Sports Science student said the Tyrone being defending champions means Derry and every other county in Ulster will be out to knock them off their perch.
“With us being champions, you can never be too sure about anything. Every county is playing for the same trophy and Derry, well, it just takes one game to get a result and everyone will be talking about Derry beating Tyrone.
“We have to screw our heads on and be focused for that challenge. They will be throwing everything at us and we will be throwing everything at them, that’s just the way its going to be.
“There will not be an inch given either way but fingers crossed, like last year, we can get out of Celtic Park with a win because it’s not an easy place to go and compete.
“Derry are usually very good in Celtic Park. Last year they weren’t up to scratch but at the same time, they were only a kick away from an All Ireland quarter-final and possibly a semi-final.
“The Derry everyone saw in Celtic Park at the start of Ulster last year wasn’t the Derry that played Tipperary and had them all but beat in round four of the Qualifiers. It was a different outfit by then.”