Tyrone defenders have come and gone over the years, but Conor Gormley has bucked the turnover trend.
A constant fixture in the Red Hand rearguard for 12 years, the Carrickmore man’s commanding presence has defined an era of unprecedented success for the county.
Not for the first time, he finds himself surrounded by eager young apprentices to the trade, all keen to learn from the master craftsman.
Among a handful of championship debutants at Tullamore last weekend were corner backs Ryan McKenna and Danny McBride. Unsurprisingly, they looked to Gormley for advice and guidance, which he duly delivered with unqualified generosity of spirit.
“Any experience you have, or any tricks of the trade you have, you try to pass it on to those boys,” he said.
“They’re confident, they have come in and done very well at training this year, they have pushed hard.
“Maybe some of them, the likes of Danny, didn’t get much game time during the league, but he has worked hard and got a spot, and I thought he had a brilliant game for a first championship appearance. Long may it continue, that’s what we want.
“Those boys are pushing the likes of myself on that bit extra, that you’re not taking your place for granted, making the likes of myself and Stevie (O’Neill) and Sean (Cavanagh) work that bit harder, and making for great competition within the team.”
Gormley may be in the process of getting to know his team-mates, but tomorrow’s opponents are unusually familiar. Tyrone will meet Roscommon for the third successive season in the All-Ireland qualifiers.
The Ulster men have run out convincing winners on both previous occasions, at Croke Park in 2011 and last season at Hyde Park, the venue for their latest clash.
“It’s the third year in a row and I suppose we know each other fairly well. We went down there last year to play them in Dr Hyde Park and we got away with a victory after a tough game, and we would expect nothing less from them this weekend.”
Given the margins of victory in the past, coupled with the Rossies’ standing as a mid-table NFL Division Three side, the trip to Hyde Park will hold no fear for Tyrone.
But Gormley insists their opponents will be treated with the respect they deserve.
“We have to respect Roscommon. They have some great players, the likes of Donie Shine, Senan Kilbride, Cathal Cregg, and midfielder Karol Mannion, and some of them are coming back after winning the All-Ireland Club Championship as well.
“They have a lot of good players, it’s a big test for us, but we’ll go down and enjoy it, it’s a challenge there for us and hopefully we’ll come away with a victory.”
Darren McCurry burst upon the championship scene last year with a stunning display as a second-half substitute against Roscommon, hitting five points.
The qualifiers have a habit of providing a platform for exciting newcomers to launch themselves, and Gormley is hoping Tyrone can uncover a few more special talents.
“It does give boys a chance, get them a bit of game time. Darren has proved that, and he showed his worth last weekend as well, coming in and scoring eight points, replacing Stephen O’Neill. It’s great to see and Ronan O’Neill has come on and scored 1-2 as well, and Conor McAliskey got a full game and scored a couple of points.
“It gives those boys a bit of confidence that they can do it at this level, and hopefully at the weekend they’ll be on form.”
McCurry did it again last weekend, hitting eight points in the demolition of Offaly, while Ronan O’Neill came off the bench for his championship debut and grabbed the only goal of the game. Yet both could find themselves with peripheral roles tomorrow, such is the depth of Tyrone’s attack.
“That could be the case, but those boys have been doing it in training, working hard and Mickey has given them a chance.
“Martin Penrose found it hard to get into the team during the league, and it’s because of the form those young boys are in. Marty has worked hard, knuckled down and got his place back, so it just shows there is strength in depth in the forward line especially.”
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