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Tyrone have enough in tank to lay Down marker

MICKEY HARTE won't need reminding what happened the last time his Red Hand charges locked horns with the men of Mourne but, for those of you with addled memories, here goes.

They drew the first day back in June 2008, but then Down prevailed after an extra-time mini-classic at Newry by 1-19 to 0-21.

The obituary writers duly sharpened their quills to mark the passing of a once-great Tyrone team but, as it transpired, Down fell at the next Ulster hurdle and later crashed at the last qualifier fence to Wexford -- and while all this was happening Tyrone were busy regrouping and revitalising themselves for their third All-Ireland conquest.

After the league just gone, sceptics are inevitably wondering if it's time to recycle those premature '08 obituaries.

Tyrone were unrecognisable from their old swarming selves -- the only saving grace being their ability to dig out unlikely victories over Cork and Kerry.

One first-round victory later, it would be slightly misleading to say Tyrone are back in business but they again look the most likely contenders to retain their Ulster crown. For the first half against Antrim they were in total control -- far less so thereafter -- but they should be stronger this evening now that Brian Dooher and Stephen O'Neill have a game in the tank.

With Sean Cavanagh on the 40 and a sharp-looking Owen Mulligan at top of the left, their forward division is still replete with match-winners.

However, their defence (minus Ryan McMenamin and Davy Harte but with Conor Gormley back to fitness) and midfield could find it tougher going.

If the fit-again Ambrose Rogers and Kalum King can win sufficient ball in the Down engine room then Martin Clarke, Daniel Hughes and especially Benny Coulter proved during their extra-time win over Donegal that they have the blue-chip quality and form to hurt Tyrone.

Suffice to say, it wouldn't be an incredible shock if Down deliver but we would be mildly surprised. The old dogs to dig it out.

TYRONE: P McConnell; M Swift, Justin McMahon, D Carlin; P Harte, C Gormley, P Jordan; C Cavanagh, K Hughes; B Dooher, S Cavanagh, Joe McMahon; M Penrose, S O'Neill, O Mulligan.

DOWN: B McVeigh; D Rooney, B McArdle D Rafferty; K McKernan, J Colgan, C Garvey; A Rogers, K King; D Hughes, M Poland, B Coulter; C Maginn, D Gordon, M Clarke.

ODDS: Tyrone 1 /2, Draw 15/2, Down 2/1