Over recent years Joe McMahon has become one of the first names on the Tyrone teamsheet.
The versatile Omagh man has featured in defence, midfield and attack for Tyrone this season alone and it’s this versatility that has made him the Red Hands most reliable player.
Looking ahead to the clash with the All-Ireland champions, Donegal, in Ballybofey, McMahon admits it is the game Tyrone have been building towards.
“We’ve been building ourselves up now over a number of months and we’d be looking at the championship now as the be all and end all. Donegal’s going to be a tough difficult game and we’ll be focussing on that.
“They’ve won twice over us. The first time we were going for a three in-a-row and the second time they beat us they went on to win Ulster. This time round they are going for their three in-a-row and we have the opportunity to stop them getting a three in-a-row.
“We know it’s not going to be easy and there never is much between the two teams and I’d say there’ll be nothing between the two teams on the 26th.”
Joe reported that while a few Red Hands players had knocks, manager Mickey Harte should have an almost full sqaud to pick from.
“We’re coming off a good league campaign and all the players have come through a couple of All County League games. I don’t think there are any major injuries from that. There seems to be a clean bill of health.”
When it was put to McMahon that Tyrone were ahead of schedule given the side’s run to the league final he said: “We don’t really have a schedule as such. In saying that we were targeting Division 1. Coming up there from Division 2 we knew that the games were going to be tough and you were always going to have to be on top of your game.
“It’s tough and hard work in pre-season so it served us well. The fitness was there and we’d be happy with reaching the final but not so happy with not getting the final result. We’ll move on now in the league and step up to another level in the championship.
Going into the ‘lion’s den’ in MacCumhaills Park in Ballybofey the primary schools coach with the Ulster Council knows that Tyrone are in for a fierce battle.
“It’s intense. Jim McGuinness has come in and done a great job. He’s set up a system of play for Donegal and he’s looked at different teams and how they’ve played systems over the years and come up with this one in terms of defending and breaking out at speed.
“It’s a difficult one to come up against but something we’re prepared for on the 26th.
“I’ve only played in Ballybofey a couple of times and it’s a difficult place to go. I don’t think many of the other lads have played there many times. Anywhere you play Donegal is going to be difficult and we expect no different in Ballybofey.”
The St Enda’s clubman knows that the championship fixture will be played at a completely different intensity to what Tyrone have been used to in the league.
“There are areas were we have to adjust and areas we need to work on from the league and you sort of finely tune things that we have to do. There are different players that have come in through the league campaign and done a good job. We’ll look at these players at their training sessions and in-house games and they’ll have an opportunity to show Mickey what they can do.”
McMahon realises that Tyrone must be more ruthless than they have been in recent years. When asked what Tyrone can do differently Joe alluded to the Red Hands score taking and finishing out the game as the important aspects. He went on: “Donegal a couple of years ago got the goal late enough on and it was hard for us to come back from that.
“Last year Paul Durcan made a great save from Marty Penrose towards the end and it’s these fine margins that will all count towards the final result.”
From a Tyrone point of view, let’s hope Tyrone finish up on the right side of these fine margins.