Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Declan Bogue: What Tyrone and Monaghan have learned from the McKenna Cup

It did not go unnoticed that at the Dr McKenna Cup semi-finals last weekend, three of the four managers came from the Errigal Ciaran club.

And while both Monaghan’s Malachy O'Rourke and Tyrone’s Mickey Harte had the pleasure of managing Fermanagh’s Peter Canavan, O'Rourke's spell at Errigal following a transfer from Derrylin O'Connell's coincided with Harte winding down his own playing days.

Both men go to the Athletic Grounds this Saturday (7.30pm) seeking silverware, but already they have achieved their main objective in the competition — that of playing the maximum amount of games possible to aid their experimentation.

While the two semi-finals were decidedly patchy affairs with neither Tyrone nor Monaghan producing anything like their best form, winning games while not hitting form at this stage of the season is an ideal scenario for coaches.

They have something to work on, faults to fix and systems to fine-tune. Managers would rather have these problems than spend January laying waste to everything in sight, not spotting anything that could be a cause for concern.

In the case of Monaghan, the influence of O'Rourke is already evident.

They might not have been able to get on top of Down throughout most of the match, but they did it when it counted by playing a fast and tight counter-attacking game.

Despite taking a series of enormous hits that appeared to cause serious discomfort, Darren Hughes steered over two long-range points to seal it at the end.

For years now people have been saying that Monaghan have limited time left to achieve something but they have undergone a significant transition. Gone are the likes of JP Mone, Dermot McArdle, Gary McQuaid, Damian Freeman and Rory Woods.

In their place have come Karl O'Connell, Drew Wylie, Kieran Duffy, Kieran Hughes and Neil McAdam among others.

They retain a strong nucleus. Conor McManus is one of the best forwards in the country. There is a strong midfield of Eoin Lennon and Dick Clerkin, and Paul Finlay is elbowing his way back into the team.

When Tyrone boss Harte sits down to consider his team selection, he must be blinded with the talent at his disposal.

He has enjoyed a bountiful January, and Tyrone's own transition can be said to be half-way through.

Saturday night's fixture occupies a strange limbo, though.

The structure of GAA competition must be unlike any other sporting body in the world given that, as the year progresses, making finals in tournaments is nice, but the result matters little as each team prepares for the last tournament.

After Sunday's match, O'Rourke commented: “Everything's geared towards the National League and hopefully these games will help us iron out problems and make us better for the League campaign.”

What's the bets that come April and the end of the league, he will be saying something similar, only substituting ‘League', with ‘Championship'?

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