Backdoor specialists Longford have shown in the recent past that they are no respectors of lofty reputations, Tyrone boss Mickey Harte has warned. The Red Hands venture into Pearse Park on Saturday evening to face Glenn Ryan’s battlers, well aware that other supposed big-hitters have struggled to emerge from the compact midlands venue with their Championship aspirations intact.
Both Derry and Mayo were put to the sword in recent years in the Qualifiers, while the mighty Kerry were also pushed to the pin of their collar before escaping with a narrow victory. Harte is well aware therefore that Tyrone could easily be added to that list of high-profile casualties unless their attitude and approach is right come the 7pm throw-in.
“Longford have shown in the recent past that they are more than a match for anyone on their home patch. They secured league success earlier in the year and will probably feel that they should have beaten Laois in the Leinster Championship. A bit like ourselves against Donegal I suppose they were let down by their finishing.
“But they are one of the counties who have really embraced the whole idea of the Qualifiers in that it allows so-called smaller teams to make the most of a second chance. They were able to pick up the momentum again and to come up to Breffni Park and produce that type of performance against Cavan was very impressive.”
And the three-times All-Ireland winning manager is expecting a real bear-pit atmosphere at Pearse Park with a bumper crowd anticipated, many backing the hosts to pull off an upset.
“I’d say the place will be buzzing alright. It should be almost packed for the occasion. Longford will really relish the draw and are coming into the match in really good form so it’s set up well for a great game.”
Tyrone have had little time to lick their wounds following that disappointing Ulster semi-final loss to Donegal, Dermot Molloy’s breakaway goal in injury time crushing the Red Hands dreams of three provincial titles in a row. Harte concurs with the general consensus that his team failed to make the most of the command they wrested over proceedings throughout almost the entire first half.
“Much of our football in the first period was very good and there were a lot of aspects of our play that we were pleased with. We were let down by our wayward finishing and that is something we have to brush up upon. We’ve got together and reviewed the game, talking about what went wrong and areas which need to be addressed.”
The Qualifiers have proven a successful route to glory for Tyrone in both 2005 and 2008, with the side recuperating from disappointing provincial exits to lift the All-Ireland title, but Harte stressed that previous back-door triumphs now counted for very little.
“You can build up a head of steam okay but this is a different year and the vagaries of the draw mean that you can’t really plot out any long term plans because you just don’t know who you will meet week by week. Yes if you come through it unscathed you are in a good place come the Quarter-Finals but that is a long way away at this stage.
“We have a good couple of years alright in the Qualifiers though there were other years like the time we lost to Laois (2006) when it wasn’t quite as kind to us.”
Tyrone’s main injury doubt surrounds the availability of Stephen O’Neill who could miss out after damaging his hamstring against Donegal. Aside from the Clann na nGael ace though Harte was relieved that all members of his squad who took part in the round of club games last week came through them unscathed.
And among those back in the fray was full-back Joe McMahon, who had to be substituted at Clones after suffering a bout of concussion when shipping a hefty blow to the head.
“It was good to see Joe out again so quickly. He showed with his performance against Donegal what a key player he is for us. Obviously Stevie O’Neill is a concern but the rest of the boys seem to be fine which is good news.”