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Painful defeat can drive Red Hands on: McNabb

Declan Bogue

If there was one Tyrone man that might have felt slightly relieved to get out of Killarney without his reputation shredded on Sunday, it was Ronan McNabb.

The Dromore man was marking Bryan Sheehan at centre-back for the first half and the role seemed to suit McNabb. More than anything, it freed up Peter Harte from the constraints of the central position to hit two fine points from wide on the left.

While Sheehan hit five first half points, four of them were from frees, only one of them won by himself. With Ciaran McGinley coming on for the second half, the balance of the defence was altered and Tyrone were outscored 3-7 to 0-1.

Afterwards, McNabb was slightly dazed as he tried to contextualise the heaviest defeat Kerry have ever inflicted on Tyrone, something Mickey Harte commenting in the post-match conference: "Collectively, we were just so poor as to be unrecognisable."

McNabb struggled to recognise the men in white shirts too.

"It's definitely hard to put your finger on it," he began. "We just fell apart.

"I suppose we didn't heed the warning signs against Kildare last weekend and we were maybe too confident, unbeaten in the league.

"It's maybe not a bad thing either, getting a defeat like that. Now we know we are not the team that everyone is saying we are, it was getting a kick up the backside, more or less."

Kerry had gone into last weekend with three defeats from three. Tyrone were undefeated, Derry nabbing a point after reeling in a seven-point gap in their first league game.

McNabb is prepared to concede that the praise lavished on the team throughout January and February could turn heads, but insisted that they knew what they were in for when they travelled down the road to Fitzgerald Stadium.

He said: "We didn't take them for granted. We knew from the start it was going to be a big game. I suppose sometimes it can creep in but I don't think complacency was a factor today. We came down here two years ago and we got a bad beating there, too.

"We weren't coming down here with complacency, but it is hard to know."

In 2012, McNabb was an unused substitute when Kerry handed them a 10-point defeat in a round three qualifier (1-16 to 1-6) at the same venue.

Now that he and other members of the 2008 All-Ireland winning minor team are of age, he agrees that defeats like these were not meant to be part of the plan.

"Most boys are used to success at underage level, myself included. We came down here two years ago, it wasn't as heavy a defeat but it was still heavy enough. I don't know, I can't get my head around it," he repeated.

That bus journey from Kerry to Tyrone would have been torturous, with the players trying their best to keep the head down. By the time Tyrone regroup, there will be some hard talking to go along with what was said in the dressing rooms last Sunday.

"There will be stuff to look at through the video," admitted McNabb.

"Trying to take the positives out of it, maybe there are not too many teams that go through a league undefeated and going into Championship maybe you need that feeling. It's something to drive you on.

"We are not the team that everyone is writing about, sometimes when you are reading papers you start to believe it and you don't work as hard."

Mickey Harte maintained that after the game, Kerry could look forward to securing a league semi-final place and with Kildare, Westmeath and Cork to come, that remains a possibility.

For Tyrone, they have Westmeath in Omagh next Saturday, with Cork and Dublin their concluding fixtures. We are about to see exactly their capacity for recovery in the last three rounds of this fascinating league.

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