Did Tyrone narrow pitch to prepare for Ballybofey?

Former Tyrone star Owen Mulligan has suggested the county narrowed their Omagh pitch for the Super 8 clash with Dublin in preparation for this weekend’s showdown with Donegal.

Did Tyrone narrow pitch to prepare for Ballybofey?

By Larry Ryan and Francie Mooney

Former Tyrone star Owen Mulligan has suggested the county narrowed their Omagh pitch for the Super 8 clash with Dublin in preparation for this weekend’s showdown with Donegal.

Mulligan told Paddy Power News: “This game is huge for Tyrone, absolutely massive. The whispers doing the rounds in the county are that Omagh’s pitch wasn’t narrowed for the Dubs, but to reflect the size of Ballybofey’s pitch.

Tyrone’s Hugh Pat McGeary holds off Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey in last month’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Healy Park. Pic: Ryan Byrne
Tyrone’s Hugh Pat McGeary holds off Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey in last month’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Healy Park. Pic: Ryan Byrne

"That will tell you how big this game is. It’s going to be a tight one. Ballybofey isn’t an easy place to go; it’ll be hostile.

“They’re the Ulster Champions at the end of the day. Tyrone are yet to beat a Division 1 team in the championship and that’s a big worry for me.

"We’ve been beaten by Monaghan, we’ve been beaten by Dublin and now we have a must-win game against Donegal.”

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte suggested the pitch had been narrowed for the meeting with Dublin on the request of Sky Sports, though this was later denied by the broadcaster.

Instead, Mulligan believes it is down to similarities in the approaches of Dublin and Donegal.

“I think Donegal will mirror Dublin’s style the last day in taking out the ball winners and the big players, such as Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly and Niall Sludden.

“Dublin targeted those three lads and made it difficult for us to supply them with enough ball.

"Only four forwards scored from play against Dublin and that’s crazy, considering the scores we were racking up before that and you’re not going to win big games with that kind of a return.”

Red Hand defender Hugh Pat McGeary insists Tyrone will travel without fear to Ballybofey, despite taking little joy from their visits to MacCumhaill Park in recent seasons.

It’s a fortress where Tir Chonaill have gone 21 games unbeaten in league and championship, but their northwest neighbours are intent on bringing that run to an end.

“They have a great record up there, but we’ll have no fear, and we’ll go up there and give our best, and hopefully get out with the result at the end of it,” said McGeary.

“We’re still on course for the semi-finals. Our main focus was getting to the All-Ireland semi-finals before the season even started, and we have another crack at doing that.”

Despite another loss at the hands of the Dubs, Tyrone will make the short trip this weekend with renewed confidence, chiefly due to the quality of their display at Healy Park in round two of the Super 8s.

“We brought it back to a point close to the end, but still decisions haven’t gone our way towards the end of the game.

“But we have another crack at it against Donegal and, hopefully, we’ll make our way into the semi-finals.

“It’s going to be a massive, massive game. It’s not easy to get points up in Ballybofey, and we’ll have to get our heads down and focus on it.

We’ve often been very close to them, there’s only been a couple of points in games between us and Dublin in the last few years. There were parts of our performance that we were happy with and parts of our performance that we’re not happy with.

“There were times we lost focus, but we’ll have a look back at it and see where we went wrong and hopefully bring that with us to Ballybofey.”

Corner-back McGeary, who has seized his opportunity due to a knee injury sustained by Cathal McCarron in the early stages of the Croke Park clash with Roscommon, feels that Tyrone could have beaten the All-Ireland champions at Healy Park, but for a few ill-fated moments early in the second half, when the visitors grabbed a somewhat fortuitous goal.

“We started off the second half well and got the first score, but they got a very lucky goal, and that kept a cushion between us and them for a long period of the game.

“If it hadn’t been for the goal. It could have been a different story coming up to the last 10 minutes. We didn’t take our chances when we needed to, but we’ll work on that for the Donegal game.”

Mulligan, however, fears Dublin had another gear to go to in that game and he doesn’t see either side in Sunday’s showdown getting close to the All-Ireland champions in a potential final.

“I thought Tyrone hit them with everything they had in the first half.

It was dog-eat-dog out there and it was a joy to watch after last year’s hammering, when we went back home with our tail between our legs, but, and I hate to say this, the Dubs looked like they could go up another gear and really blow us out of the water if they needed to.

"In Croke Park, they’ll be a different animal entirely and we mightn’t have laid a glove on them.

“I don’t think I’ve seen anyone who can stop them this year. I was very impressed with Tyrone in the first half, but the winning mentality that Dublin has makes them a hard animal to stop.

“I’ve a wee sneaky feeling that Galway could give them a bit of a game if they meet. If anyone’s going to give them a game it’ll be the Tribesmen.”

He certainly doesn’t see Kerry dethroning Jim Gavin’s men in a semi-final should they survive in Group 1 on Saturday.

“To be honest, Kerry are being judged on past teams and are been blown up due to past teams.

"They beat a rubbish Cork team and struggled against the two Division 1 teams they played. I really don’t think they’re contenders.

“They should be out of the championship. I don’t think they’re anywhere near the finished article. It’s far too soon for them.”

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