Peter Canavan: Sunday will be true test of Tyrone potential
Published 15/07/2016 | 02:30
There have been months of high praise and big talk of where this Tyrone team can go but it's only now will we see where they truly stand.
I wasn't surprised by their progress in the league that was wrapped up without much fuss. And, being honest, when I saw the draw, I fully expected them to get to an Ulster final. But here and now is where we'll learn just where this Tyrone team are at.
If they can negotiate a win against Donegal, then we can start talking about where they rank in terms of the big boys. It's a big 'if' though as Rory Gallagher's side have impressed so far. And as I see it, there are three main areas where the game will be won and lost.
1. Battle of the runners
Both sides rely heavily on the running game and Donegal will look to Frank McGlynn, Ryan McHugh and Odhran Mac Niallais to turn the Tyrone defence. Tyrone have Tiernan McCann, Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly and they are three possible game winners on each side. How each side get their runners on the ball and, just as crucially, negate the influence of the other side's three main strike runners will go a long way towards deciding Sunday's game.
2. Battle of the talismen
Donegal have Michael Murphy and Tyrone have Sean Cavanagh. Both men are carrying out a largely similar role for their sides and there's no doubting their leadership and commitment to the cause and ability to lift their team. Murphy might drop a little deeper but they'll both move around and try and influence things. Murphy has age on his side but Sean knows he won't have too many more chances to win an Ulster title. In fact, he'll feel like it has already been too long having not won one since 2010. The pair have shown flashes of their class this year but there is more in both men. It's just a matter of who can find it on Sunday.
3. Battle on the sideline
It's experience versus the young gun. At first glance you'd think Tyrone have the edge in who they can bring on. The likes of Rory Brennan (1-0) and Mark Bradley (1-1) made big impacts when introduced against Cavan and Mickey Harte has introduced ten of a possible 12 subs in their last two outings.
Interestingly, Rory Gallagher only brought in six players in the two games with Monaghan so he will have to box clever with his resources here.
It's a big game for Rory personally too. Unless he wins an All-Ireland he'll be in Jim McGuinness' shadow so he'll be hungry for success. And he has shown he can make the big calls on the sideline.
He got Donegal together at half-time against Fermanagh and changed things up to get them through with 14 men.
And the adjustments he made between the drawn Monaghan game and the replay worked a treat too.
Across all three points you can't say that one side clearly has it over the other to ensure they'll come out on top. But if you pressed me my head would follow my heart and lean towards Tyrone, just based on the fact that they are sore about the few beatings they have taken off Donegal in the last few years.
Only a handful involved in the whole Tyrone set-up will remember the last time they beat Donegal back in 2007.
Most of the remainder have been on the receiving end four times in championship in the last five campaigns. They'll be hungry to make a statement and that could get them over the line.
The one drawback I have about them is that they have yet to feel the full force of a top-tier team this campaign. This will be their first taste of playing a Division 1 team since last year's defeat to Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final.
On that basis, some of the analysis I have heard of this Tyrone team hasn't fallen short of hyperbole. Without being disrespectful, if Kerry beat Limerick, Tipperary and Clare in Munster, do people start talking about them as All-Ireland winners?
They don't. They wait until Cork or some other top-ranked side has got a chance to test them.
And it's similar for Tyrone. This is their biggest test so far. And if they keep their heads and get over this hurdle it would be a big statement from this Tyrone team.
They have a lot to do before we can start talking about that.
What is certain is that we'll have a much better idea of where both these teams stand on Sunday evening.