O’Neill ready to do battle

Tyrone warmed up in the best possible way for their up-coming National Football League campaign on Saturday night with an assured display against Monaghan in the Athletic Grounds, Armagh, writes Seamus Donnelly.

While the team will have enjoyed their success it didn’t take long for minds to shift forward to this Saturday’s meeting with Down in Pairc Esler, Newry.

When asked about what the McKenna Cup victory meant for the league, Tyrone captain Stephen O’Neill was quite emphatic that it would have no bearing.

“It doesn’t really send out any signal for the league. The league is a completely different competition and the level rises again.

“We know we’re in Division One, we’re up with the best teams in the country and we’re going to be up for a real battle in every game we play in.”

O’Neill was also confident that the older players on the team could blend well with the recent recruits to make for a successful year: “I’ve been an oul’ fella for a right while now. We’ve a good mixture of youth and we can go a good distance in the championship.”

It’s been three years since Tyrone last contested in the top tier of the National League and with this year’s Division 1 shaping up to be one of the strongest in recent memory it should prove a valuable learning curve for a young Tyrone team.

The first real signs of a decline in Tyrone’s football appeared in 2010 when they lost to Derry, Mayo, Monaghan, Galway and Dublin enroute to relegation to Division 2.

With a re-building job now well underway the Tyrone management team will be keen to see how the younger faces that have been introduced to the side will acquit themselves week in and week out against top opposition.

Mickey Harte was reluctant to single any individual player out following Saturday night’s encounter preferring the reporters in attendance to make their own assessments but the performances of Conor McAliskey, Danny McBride and Ronan McNamee will certainly have pleased Harte.

With Darren McCurry also featuring prominently during the McKenna Cup and Ronan O’Neill to return, the Tyrone manager has the perfect atmosphere to test the mettle of his young players.

With trips to Down and Mayo to open the league campaign Harte may get these answers very quickly indeed