Saturday 24 February 2018

Tyrone under pressure as they prepare for Dubs

 

Harte: Facing Dubs test. Photo: Sportsfile
Harte: Facing Dubs test. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The Allianz football and hurling leagues may only have reached Round 2 this weekend but already the pressure is on for counties that lost their opening games.

History shows that few football teams that lose their first two games finish in the top two in any of the four divisions.

And since a top-two slot is required to reach the final in Division 1 and earn promotion in the three other divisions, it's clear just how important this weekend's games are.

Mickey Harte's men are among those coming under early scrutiny after scoring only three points from play when losing by four points to Galway last Sunday.

Tonight in Omagh, they host Dublin, who have lost only seven of 76 league and championship games under Jim Gavin.

It's a repeat of last year's All-Ireland semi-final, which Dublin won by 12 points, and there's also a reprise of the other semi-final tonight, with Mayo facing Kerry in Castlebar. Mayo won last year's semi-final replay by five points.

Dublin, Kerry and Mayo won their first-round games, giving them some leeway in the event of a defeat but all three will be determined to build on good starts and make an early push towards the top of the table.

Tyrone haven't beaten Dublin since 2013, but have a fairly good league record since then, drawing twice and losing twice by a point, including last year when they took a point out of Croke Park. The two Kerry-Mayo games were among the highlights of last year's championship so tonight's clash will draw a very big crowd to Elverys MacHale Park.

Both are usually slow starters in the league, which made last weekend's wins all the more pleasing for respective managers, Stephen Rochford and Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Remarkably, Kerry haven't won their first two league games since 2009 while Mayo last achieved it in 2012.

Donegal, who lost to Kerry last Sunday, host Galway in Letterkenny while Kildare face Monaghan in Newbridge. Both lost last Sunday and have already been installed as favourites for relegation, even if that seems a bit harsh with six of seven rounds remaining.

Cork's plans to escape from Division 2 suffered a setback when they lost to Tipperary last Saturday and since it took 10 or more points to earn promotion in four of the last five seasons, they need to beat Down in Newry to give themselves a decent chance of finishing in the top two.

In hurling, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford are among those feeling early pressure after losing their opening 1A games.

Kilkenny and Tipperary are at home to Clare and Waterford respectively this weekend while first-round winners Wexford and Cork clash in Innovate Wexford Park.

Wexford were last weekend's most impressive winners, easily beating Waterford in Walsh Park with a performance which convinced Davy Fitzgerald they are building solidly on last year's improvements.

"We haven't been up there (1A ) for a long time and we wondering if we would be up to the pace and intensity. We were but there's a long way to go," he said.

Irish Independent

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