Mulligan bemoans ‘over-the-top’ Ulster fallout

OWEN MULLIGAN has described the criticism of Sunday’s Ulster Championship tie between Derry and Monaghan as “over the top”.

Players on both sides could face lengthy suspensions after a game which has been condemned for its nasty and confrontational nature but Mulligan clearly doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

“I only saw the second half but I think the reaction was a bit over the top. Players got involved, but there is a great deal at stake there and you will do anything to win. That is what they did, they did anything to win.

“I don’t think it was as bad as some people made out. Ulster is very hard to get out of. Monaghan and Derry are big physical teams and they just clashed on the day, maybe Derry were spurred on after been beaten by Monaghan in the last few years.”

What last weekend’s game in Derry proved yet again was that the Ulster Senior Championship is the most competitive, and attritional, of the four football provincial competitions.

Tyrone’s recent relationship with it has been slightly curious. Mickey Harte’s side have actually claimed the Sam Maguire more times (three) than they have the Anglo Celt Cup since their first All-Ireland victory in 2003.

All that is in no small part down to Armagh’s dominance within the northern province. The Orchard county has claimed seven of the last 10 titles – Tyrone the other three –and Mulligan insists it is their first priority.

The first step towards that goal will be taken in Clones on Sunday where Armagh, who are champions of course, await. Recent meetings between the two have rarely lacked for physicality and confrontation.

“Some people say the Ulster championship does not matter but it does. The Tyrone team and different teams around Ulster do care. That is the Tyrone team’s first goal, to win Ulster, and we’ll do anything to do it.

“If it means getting rough and getting physical, we will do that. Tyrone and Armagh games are always fiercely contested. There is great respect there. Once you cross the white line it is going to be hard hitting and we know that.”

The Armagh side that Tyrone meet this weekend will be markedly different from the ones they butted heads with for so many years.

Gone are men like Francie Bellew, Kieran McGeeney, Paul McGrane and Paddy McKeever.

The entire spine has been ripped out in the space of two years. It is no wonder that Peter McDonnell’s team has been described as one in transition but Mulligan remains wary of their old adversaries.

“The boys coming through will have a point to prove too,” he said.

Armagh have been good for Tyrone. Mulligan admits that the sight of Joe Kernan’s men claiming the Sam Maguire in 2002 spurred them on to do the same but Tyrone’s task now is one they have failed to complete twice before.

Retaining the All-Ireland title has been beyond every Ulster side apart from Cavan in 1948 and Down in 1961 but Mulligan believes the omens are good. For now anyway.

Stephen O’Neill is “unmarkable” in training, Brian Dooher is “flying”.

Brian McGuigan has emerged as a late doubt for Sunday but Mulligan himself is back to full fitness after an injury-interrupted 2008 and he believes lessons have been learnt from 2004 and 2006 when their grip on Sam was loosened long before September.

“Mickey has definitely freshened his ideas up and the boys he has brought in are pushing all the way. There may be a few debuts on Sunday.

“Mayo put us out a few years ago and then (Laois) but hopefully we can go and retain it.

“I don’t think an Ulster team has done it in a long time.”

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