Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

McMenamin warns Tyrone to be on guard in qualifiers

Tyrone's Ryan McMenamin (far left) hopes the team's progress will not be halted in this year's qualifiers
Tyrone's Ryan McMenamin (far left) hopes the team's progress will not be halted in this year's qualifiers

First day of the qualifiers always has a touch of the unknown about it. Five Ulster teams are set for action over the weekend completely unsure of their place in the world.

Being beaten in the preliminary and first round of the Ulster Championship always brings its own insecurities, especially given how much importance is placed on winning in your province.

The crushing manner in which Donegal wiped Tyrone out in Ballybofey has left the Red Hands in a peculiar half-light. The withdrawal of PJ Quinn was one thing, but when Niall Morgan suffered an injury that has ended his season, something of the charisma of this new Tyrone side was lost.

Tyrone have always been on first-name terms with the qualifier series. Trapped in a limbo between defeat in their own province and the shining light of Croke Park at the end of the tunnel, they have had both memorable and utterly forgettable days.

At first glance, it was an opportunity for redemption.

"Coming off the back of being beat in the Championship, you were glad to get away," says Ryan McMenamin, their veteran of three All-Ireland wins.

He recalls some odd and strange days. Like the time the Leitrim fire brigade frantically pumped water off the Carrick-on-Shannon pitch in an effort to make it playable in 2002, only for the game to be abandoned after 14 minutes.

Then there was the trip to Drogheda to play Louth in 2008, a journey that Sean Cavanagh described as, "Like going to Accrington Stanley."

There is a sense of adventure that you don't get in the over-analysed provincial Championship, says McMenamin.

"You were able to get away and play your football, without the glare of the media and the whole country watching you. There was stuff you could have been working on in training and you could bring it more into the qualifiers."

However, show-time is still show-time. "Once game-time comes, two or three minutes before the ball is thrown in, you do get yourself into Championship mode."

It's been just short of five weeks since that chastening evening in Ballybofey for Tyrone, but the memory of a footballer can be wiped clean in an instant. "I was chatting a couple of them and they were disappointed," McMenamin explains.

"They feel they had the chances in the first half to maybe get it. From what I hear they were right back training on Tuesday and Thursday and put in great effort. When you are in that squad all you want to do is get out and start playing football again.

"The boys have re-focussed now and they see four Championship games to get to a quarter-final."

Defeats, they've had a few. When people consider Tyrone and the backdoor there is an impulse to recall Sligo in 2002, but that was played on the main stage of Croke Park.

Far more painful are the ones on far-flung grounds, like the loss to Laois in 2006 when they surrendered up their All-Ireland title, scoring a measly six points on a rotten evening.

"It was a tough defeat to take, a year on from having gone on a run in the qualifiers. We didn't put much of a fight up."

If they need to display one quality right now to their travelling support, it is spirit, according to McMenamin.

"In the county right now there is probably a bit of pessimism after getting beat in the first round win. It takes a couple of wins to get back in the way of going. Tyrone are expected to win, any of the home supporters out there would sense that the time to get any big teams in the qualifiers is the first game, especially when you have it at home.

"Offaly were expected to get a hammering against Kildare (they lost by only four points, 0-19 1-12) and that didn't materialise. They are going to have hope."

Offaly have a few things in their favour. First among them is their familiarity with Ulster opponents at this stage. In 2010, they frightened the wits out of a Down side that would go on to reach the All-Ireland final, losing by two points and a year later, they responded to criticism when Michael Duignan claimed they were only there for "going on the beer", by battering Monaghan in round one, 1-18 to 1-10.

Their boss Emmett McDonnell has drafted in four of the hurling panel, including one of the top forwards in the county in Shane Dooley. But McMenamin advises caution; "Tyrone are expected to win, any of the home supporters out there would sense that the time to get any big teams in the qualifiers is at home in the first game."

Championship football without the safety net. This is where the real stuff begins.

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