Tyrone ready to bounce back
Drooped shoulders and expressions of anti-climax were all over the Tyrone players as they prepared to board the team bus after Sunday's league final defe
It was a game they desperately wanted. In order to recall just what exactly makes them such a formidable team, they needed some validation in the form of silverware. It would have been a spectacular achievement.
Take a step back from the narrow loss to Dublin though, and assess the league for what Tyrone got out of it.
13 players were introduced to National league football. They beat the All-Ireland champions and the finalists. They kept their foot on the heads of Down and Kildare, and in two meetings with the favourites for the 2013 All-Ireland, they broke even with a win each, no more than one point in each game.
Into the bargain, they got huge performances out of Niall Morgan and Connor McAliskey on the biggest stage. All this, accomplished without their captain and greatest scoring threat Stephen O'Neill, who went over on his ankle before the game in a freak accident.
Joe McMahon — captain in O'Neill's absence — put his own thoughts on the day's work. “We were well set-up and well prepped before the game; every man knew what their job was,” the Omagh St Enda's man said.
“Losing Stevie, yes it was a blow but Connor McAliskey stepped in and did a good job as did the rest of the forward line. It will serve us well for later in the season to see that we are not a one-man team in that sense.”
This league campaign brought a rare series of consecutive games that allowed O'Neill to click through the gears and get to his optimum level, so therefore his injury throws some mystery over what Tyrone could do with him on board.
“The good thing as well for Stevie — trying to take a positive out of it, is that he can get a rest and set himself up for the Donegal game,” commented McMahon.
While the attack — with the addition of Niall Morgan's exceptional place kicking of five points — had a serious edge and threat, the defence was also impressive. It is a curiosity of this game that despite producing 35 scores, there were a number of truly good defensive performances.
One possible explanation is that neither side went with a specialist sweeper and while the play did have to cope with greater numbers helping back, that is nothing unusual.
A few years back, Cathal McCarron was sent out to mark none other than Bernard Brogan in the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final defeat. Back then he picked up an early yellow card and Mickey Harte's usual policy on carded players in the full-back line applied. He was whipped off for Dermot Carlin, post-haste.
Yesterday he was back on Brogan duty and when they made for the first ball sent into their corner in the first minute, McCarron was blown for a foul that Brogan converted.
After that, the Dromore man didn't give the 2010 Player of the Year a sniff, restricting him to placed ball duty and keeping him scoreless from play.
On 52 minutes he robbed Brogan of the ball when a goal seemed certain, and although the attacker got to the rebound, McCarron produced a full-length dive to shut his shot out.
“The last time I marked Bernard was three or four years ago and I suppose I was a lot younger,” commented McCarron afterwards. “I'm 25 now so I suppose I picked up a wee bit of experience. It's all about learning so hopefully we can learn from this.”
Praised for his play by reporters, he replied, “Every man has an assignment — it's 15 men against 15 men and that's the way it is; there are no world-beaters.”
He had known after the team was named on Thursday night that his role would carry responsibility, but he modestly assessed his contribution with, “Bernard Brogan is probably one of the best forwards in the country but he probably had an off-day too himself. Everybody's human and thankfully I was tight enough to him. There was a few minutes the ball didn't come his way and I was lucky enough to get out for a few.”
But still, the hurt of defeat, nor the tone of the pre-match assessment did not sit easily with McCarron.
“People were saying we were 3/1 there today. We thought that was an outrageous price for us in a two-horse race. We expected to win this game today. We weren't coming down to fulfil a fixture but it just didn't happen.
“A few breaks at the end didn't come our way but it is all go now until the Donegal game.”
May 26 by the way, in case you have been underneath a stone.
Belfast Telegraph Digital