TOUCH wood, Ronan McNamee is about to experience running out at Healy Park in the context of an Ulster Championship match for the very first time in his career.
It’s only Tyrone’s second provincial match at home since the Aghyaran man was drafted into the panel in 2012, but a shoulder injury meant he played no part against Down in 2014.
He’ll avoid getting himself into mischief as the clock ticks down to Tyrone’s home date with Monaghan on May 20, but there’s no guarantee of selection with the competition for places stiffening in the full-back line.
Former Tyrone U21 captain Michael McKernan has slotted in seamlessly in his debut season at senior level, while there are a few other unfamiliars who are pushing for a first-team spot.
McNamee, who made three league starts out of a possible seven, says he is determined to hold onto the number three jersey.
“That’s the way you want it, if you get too comfortable, you’re not going to be pushing yourself to the same level. Hugh Pat’s been very very good, he’s been knocking on the door for a couple of years and his attitude’s always been top notch. Michael McKernan and Brendan Burns have come in and everybody knows they’re fighting for positions. That’s the way you want it, nothing’s guaranteed in life.”
While McNamee is embracing the chance to welcome Monaghan to Healy Park, he accepts that it hasn’t been much of a fortress for Tyrone down the years. In a nod to the wider audience, he hopes for an entertaining affair, although there has been a perceptible degree of disappointment that it appears highly unlikely at this juncture that it will be broadcast live on television.
“You could argue that home advantage gives us an edge but we haven’t really been brilliant at at Healy Park to be fair. We’ve probably been better at Clones but it’s a great opportunity to bring Monaghan into our own back yard. It’s going to be a humdinger and hopefully we can serve up a nice spectacle.
“Fingers crossed I can stay injury-free and that I get a start. It’d be great to run out in front of your home crowd, it’s not often you get the chance and hopefully we get a big crowd.”
McNamee, who earned an All-Star nomination for his impressive performances at full-back in 2015, admits that the Tyrone rearguard could be left ‘chasing shadows’ if they’re not on their game against the Farney County.
“We could be chasing shadows the guts of the day if we’re not up to par. They’ve got a lot of big players like Conor McManus and Kieran Hughes, as well as a couple of Scotstown lads like Conor McCarthy.”
He added: “Obviously we’ve won Ulster the last couple of years but they dominated the previous six or seven years alongside Donegal.
“They’ve always been a strong physical team and they’ve bled in a few younger boys. They’d a brilliant league campaign, they beat Dublin on the last day of the league so they’re well capable of beating anyone on their day.”
Aghyaran achieved promotion to the top-flight last season and hover narrowly above the danger zone after five rounds of fixtures in April. They face Omagh on Friday night, after which McNamee’s focus will switch to finalising his Ulster Championship preparations.
“It’s great to get back with the club, you can sort of relax and get back into your old routine. We’re out this Friday night, and that’ll be it, but it’s always good to get back where you all started. Things are getting serious again with Tyrone too and it’s great to be a part of that as well.”
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