HEALY Park hasn’t always been a fortress for Tyrone, but Padraig Hampsey hopes they can change that widely held perception by the time Cavan come rolling into town for the first round of the Ulster Championship.
Two of Tyrone’s group stage matches in the league will be hosted by the Gortin Road venue, namely their eagerly-anticipated match against Donegal on May 15 and their date with Seamus McEnaney’s Monaghan a fortnight later.
A couple of victories on home turf would set Tyrone in good stead for the championship, and they’re conscious of their relatively mixed record at Healy Park down the years.
Hampsey (above) said: “Donegal at home will be Feargal (Logan) and Brian’s (Dooher) first game in charge so it’s one we have our eyes on and it’s going to be a tough battle.
“We’d like to make Healy Park a fortress as it hasn’t been in years gone by, so it’s definitely a game we’re targeting.”
The last time Cavan overcame Tyrone in the championship 1983, and since then, the muster they could manage across nine championship matches has been two draws, in 2005 and 2016. Their average deficit of defeat in those seven losses was 9.3 points (stat courtesy of Anglo Celt Sports Editor Paul Fitzpatrick), so it’s fair to say that the Red Hands have been something of a bogey team.
That said, their mentality seems to have improved massively under their effervescent manager Mickey Graham, and Hampsey is experienced enough at this stage to know not to take any team for granted in the bearpit of the Ulster Championship.
“It’ll be a tough battle, they’re defending champions and that’s fully deserved as they were great in last year’s championship.
“They had some excellent u-21 teams, and the players who came through those teams will still be around for the next number of years.
“They’ve plenty of grit as well, they showed great determination throughout their campaign. Not only do they have what it takes physically but they’ve plenty of good footballers in the full-forward line so they’ll be a tough team to beat.”
See this week’s Ulster Herald for the rest of our interview with Tyrone star Padraig Hamspey