Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

McNabb is Tyrone's number 10 smash hit

Ronan McNabb was a bundle of energy against Armagh

It's almost uncanny, the similarities between the last and the current occupants of the Tyrone number 10 jersey.

Ronan McNabb possesses a similar wiry frame to Brian Dooher, built for covering middle-distances. The jawbones shout their prominence and the black hair is short and unfussy. If you told a newcomer to Gaelic games that Dooher handed over the water-carrier role to his younger brother, you’d get away with it.

McNabb agrees with the comparison, but adds a significant caveat. “Aye, minus the scores!”

McNabb was a bundle of energy in Tyrone’s win over Armagh on Sunday, reminding us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. After Dooher’s retirement, Mickey Harte looked around at his options and decided that McNabb was a ready-made replacement.

“That’s the role I have taken up for Dromore,” McNabb explains. “Mickey’s using me that way, and I’m absolutely delighted to be playing, I would play anywhere.

“I wouldn’t say I’m like Brian Dooher, but I suppose I would like to get forward, and then you have to get back and defend again.

“From my own point of view and from Tyrone’s point of view, I’m sure we would like somebody who would be getting the odd score.

“That’s one of things of the gameplan, is that I would get up and join the attack. But with the intensity out there sometimes you don’t have the energy.”

To play as an intercounty wing-forward, you need a massive engine. Coaches now routinely talk of the half-forwards being the new half-backs and vice-versa, given the recently heavy reliance on half-backs chipping in with scores.

Tyrone’s half-back line were especially prolific in the National League. With the players who lined out in jersey numbers 5 to 7 scoring 7-13 through the programme, there had to be defensive cover.

McNabb’s role was to drift back from wing-forward to offer protection in the place of the roving Peter Harte.

While Harte played in a more advanced role on Sunday, McNabb still had to help out with the rearguard action.

“The pace there was something I had never experienced before,” said the Dromore man. “I suppose the physicality as well. The legs are tired now, and I was glad of the final whistle, to be honest.

“It’s a big step up, when you are against these boys who have all the strength and conditioning work done.

“Fitness and whatever, and all those boys are putting it to full use. It’s a new level, a different intensity, there’s a lot at stake in the Ulster Championship, so it all goes into the melting pot and makes it so intense and so tough.”

A game against Armagh, in the Athletic Grounds was always going to be a pressured environment, but even with the heat on, Tyrone’s play opened out a fair bit.

“People looked at our system in the league,” explained McNabb.

“But we have the players to change it, day in and day out.

“Our game can be suited because we have the players.

“Everybody’s comfortable on the ball, everybody’s smart, intelligent footballers.

“I suppose every county team is the same, but we can play in various different ways. It showed that we are not just one-dimensional as people were saying.”

For now, it’s off to Ballybofey to see what awaits Tyrone in the semi-final.

“We will be keeping a tight eye on Derry and Donegal and hopefully we can get a result and progress again,” he added.

“It’s all to do and there’s more hard work to be done.”

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