Fattened on their successes from the turn of the century, Tyrone’s hype machine has become a slow burn each summer.
Even prior to the 2018 All-Ireland final, it took a while before the white and red bunting went up. But it’s been up in the heart of east Tyrone for the last few days to celebrate the fact that the captain Padraig Hampsey is a Coalisland man; the first county captain from the club since the days of Ciaran Corr.
It’s been four years since their last Ulster decider. The Red Hands had an initial flurry of provincial deciders once Mickey Harte took control in the winter of 2002, but even he went six years from 2010 to 2016 without the county colours in ribbons on an ear of the Anglo-Celt Cup.
The restoration of straight knock-out may not be to everyone’s taste, but it has ignited a desperation to the action, with all safety nets and harnesses removed.
“It makes it even more special for Saturday’s game and there’s a lot up for grabs,” noted Hampsey at the press briefing this week.
“It’s not just the Anglo-Celt you’ll be lifting, it could be the end of your Championship so that will be a massive thing as well.” With the change of management, and joint managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher filling Harte’s post after he stepped down, there has been a lick of paint applied to the structure and approach of the team.
One hugely symbolic act was the change of captain from Matthew Donnelly who took over from Sean Cavanagh in time for 2018, to Hampsey.
It was a decision reached fairly swiftly, Hampsey revealed.
“I suppose it was before we had got the season up and going and Feargal and Brian approached me and we spoke about a few different things and they named me as captain there and then.
“I suppose there’s plenty of players who could have got that role, there’s plenty of leaders but it was a nice thing to receive and a very proud moment.”
He continued: “It’s massive, it shows over the last number of years if you are keeping your head down and working hard and trying to get your place in the team and you break in and try and keep your place, but it’s just a huge honour to be asked to captain the team.
“It’s such a great bunch of lads and hardworking lads, and over the last couple of years we have been knocking on the door for Ulster finals and Ulster championship games, and in 2018 we were in an All-Ireland final. It’s just a great opportunity for myself to get that, and one I’m very thankful for.”
Hampsey insists he is not the most demonstrative captain, preferring instead to lead by example. In some ways it is a reflection on the management. Both Logan and Dooher captained their county but neither were media luvvies, actively shunning that part of it.
Leading by example will be critical to Tyrone’s chances. Last day out in the semi-final win over Donegal, Hampsey coped well on Michael Murphy before his red card. He will need to be every bit as alert this weekend if he is handed the job of chaperone to Monaghan’s Conor McManus.
“You could have Conor McManus for 60 or 65 minutes of the game and he could maybe pop up and hit one or two massive scores to get his team across the line. He’s just that type of player,” states Hampsey.
“If you take your eye off him at all he can really hurt you, and over the last 10 years or so that’s been seen in his game. He’s probably in the top three forwards in the country and that’s the reason why. You can’t ever take your eye off the man, and he’ll shoot from anywhere and he’s very accurate.
“It probably is down to his mental toughness, it’s in those clutch moments where has stepped up for Monaghan over the last couple of years and I’m sure on Saturday if the opportunity comes he’ll be the man to do it again, so he’ll take a fair bit of watching.”
A duel to relish. A final to relish.