Tyrone back in zone for final
Playing Dublin in front of a healthy audience in Croke Park with a national title at stake is always a big occasion, but Tyrone trainer Fergal McCann feels it is a "welcome distraction" from the real business of the Championship, when they face All-Ireland champions Donegal in Ballybofey on May 26th.
"Maybe for us," McCann comments, "and I'm not demeaning it by saying this but it's a welcome distraction. It's good for us to have that game, and after that it is four weeks until the Donegal game. We can only imagine in neighbouring counties how intense the build-up to that game will be. We are going to have to protect our boys as much as possible from what's out there."
While Donegal have been happy enough to write off the league from seemingly an early stage, the extra games for Tyrone have brought about a keen edge and they are not lacking for match practice. The attitude of Tyrone to the league has aided their development, McCann feels.
"We will look at Donegal in a couple of week's time. The more games, the more big games we get in Croke Park will help our group. We feel that has certainly been the way."
An Augher St Macartan's clubmate of long-time Tyrone selector Tony Donnelly, McCann became the Tyrone trainer in 2005 and they went on to to win the All-Ireland that season. Like many counties, Tyrone have had to move their training venues around the county down through the years, with neighbouring club Clogher being particularly generous with their facilities.
Now, that era is over with the opening of the simply awe-inspiring complex for Tyrone county teams at Garvaghey. The 48-acre site was purchased in 2008 and at a final cost of £6.7m is the most impressive team training facility anywhere in the country.
For McCann, the certainty of having a permanent venue for training and preparation has revolutionised and aided his work, as he explains, "We moved in here in February. Around about that time club teams were back out on Tuesday nights and we rely on club facilities. With teams out on a Tuesday night we were finding it hard to find a venue.
"It's brilliant to come here on a Tuesday night and know your pitch, know that the equipment is there ready to be set up."
He continues, "Now, we are able to do our gym sessions and everything here. We have always supervised their gym sessions but a big thing is that if you are not fit to do your session out on the pitch, if you are on a rehab route, then you can come in here and get a session done. It's not coming here just to get an assessment with the physio, it gives them a chance to get some quality work done on the night and it is great to have that."
Given how finely-poised the game on May 26th appears, the opening of Garvaghey is – in the language of Team Sky cycling manager Dave Brailsford – a 'marginal gain' for Tyrone.
In seeking to find the right pitch for the team, McCann feels that Tyrone have been helped along by the regularity of the league programme.
"Barring the break in the league and the break between the Kildare and the Kerry game," he says, "our players have been going every weekend with games. I suppose it's not a bad ratio there of training to games. At least when you try things in sessions you can see if it's working in the game at the weekend, so we are actually seeing what is happening.
"It certainly is working for us, but every team to themselves and their level of preparation, because Donegal had a hard year last year too. You can see the reasons why Donegal went down the path they went down."
Talk of Donegal "pushing buttons" on the Championship preparations may sound ominous, but McCann points out the differences in development between the two.
"They are at a different stage with their team," he says of Donegal, "and thankfully our boys have come in and done really well and you only have to look at Niall Morgan and how well he has bedded in.
"Donegal are to themselves, this is the path they have gone down and I wouldn't be one to criticise what way teams are prepared. You are only going on what you are hearing anyway."