There has been much talk lately about the age profile of the Tyrone team and the possible effect this may have not only on their chances this year but on their prospects in the future. Manager Mickey Harte who knows the players and their capabilities better than anyone does not appear to be too preoccupied with the fact that his team is backboned by so many thirty plus players or that his team captain is closer to forty than thirty. He was more than happy with the contribution of these “golden oldies” against Monaghan and judging by the form shown by Brian Mc Guigan, Stephen O’Neill and Conor Gormley he had every right to be.
However, whether Mickey accepts it or not, time and age do catch up with every footballer and all too often it is in the white heat of championship that the cracks become exposed. Former Down manager Pete Mc Grath once spoke of the hunger required to win championships and how it can desert you like a thief in the night. His point simply put was that you don’t know how hungry you really are until the chips are down and the backs are to the wall. Tyrone will face a hungry and very committed Donegal side on Sunday and we will have a much clearer idea of their potential when that game is over. The Tir Connail lads will lack nothing in terms of motivation and will present a serious challenge to the Red Hands chances of retaining their Ulster Title. They are fit, motivated and driven and possess all the qualities necessary to exploit any possible or perceived weaknesses in the Tyrone team.
Both managers are well known for their attention to detail and tactical nous. The tactics employed by the two teams will be fascinating to watch. Gone are the days when Donegal just went out and played with a swash buckling sense of adventure. Their manager has built a team and in so doing he has upset many of the footballing purists in Donegal but if his team lift The Anglo Celt Cup this year those same doubters will change their views. His team plays his way and they stick to the script. Well so far any way but as of yet they have not faced a team of Tyrone’s craft and experience and it will be interesting to see how they deal with that. Last year Tyrone faced a Monaghan team that we were assured were ready to win a championship and Mickey Harte’s side put them to the sword. This year we see a similar position but the main difference being that there are more miles on the clock and several players have had long term injuries to contend with.
Sunday’s result will have a huge bearing on both teams and their immediate futures. A win for Tyrone and the prospects of a fourth All Ireland will loom large and the age profile of the team will count for nothing. Defeat however could well be a completely different scenario. Keeping such a battle scarred squad motivated and hungry enough for the treacherous route of the qualifiers would test the mettle of most men. It could even lead to the situation the great Kerry team of the seventies and eighties found themselves in as they tried to cling to past glories with a mixture of ageing players and inexperienced youngsters proving no match against the rising tide of Cork .
As for Donegal their situation is not so dramatic. They are a young side with plenty to be positive about and will surely win an Ulster title soon. If they manage to achieve that goal in 2011 it will be considered a huge personal achievement for Mc Guinness and an endorsement of his methods and strategies. Should they fail they will regroup through the qualifiers and prove more than difficult opponents for any side along that particular route.
At this stage however it is all ifs, buts and maybes and as we discovered in 2003, our manager does not have much time for ifs, buts or maybes. A similar outcome to that great year would do nicely and I am sure Mr Mc Guinness and his team will hardly mind waiting another year for an Ulster title. After all they have youth on their side while we have lots of old men on our team………. or so they say..