Testing times ahead for Tyrone, but boss Mickey looks to take heart from past experience
Published 29/05/2013 | 07:59
All of a sudden, there's a sense of back to the drawing board for Tyrone.
Throughout the league campaign, we bore witness to a new team being created and moulded, yet when it came down to the Championship, only two new debutants took the field. And they had horrible days.
Connor McAliskey was whipped off as early as the 27th minute, presumably after he was booked. Niall Morgan hit six dead balls but only converted one, psyched out of it by a combination of players and the crowd.
The work that Mickey Harte has done over the winter and spring has been useful, but after Sunday, perhaps slightly misleading – something the Tyrone manager admitted when he said: "We thought we could do better than that.
"But I think the evidence is there that Donegal are improving all the time.
"They have improved the last couple of years we have met them, and that's the best I have seen them there today.
"Having said that, we had chances in the game to push ourselves ahead a bit, but we missed a lot of chances at that time when we did have the upper hand.
"Then we didn't punish them when we had the upper hand, and they punished us when they had the upper hand."
He continued: "That's the sign of a good team.
"They absorbed the pressure we put on them... they were contributing to why we didn't score, because they put us under pressure."
One consolation that Tyrone can take is that they have been in this position before. Memories of defeat by Derry in Healy Park in 2006, or of that extra time loss to Down in 2008 were other days when they fell at the first hurdle.
Last week, Harte told this writer: "I'll not accept that there is a get-out clause in the qualifiers. That it exists is good, fine, but that's not what it is about.
"There is only one way to win an Ulster Championship, and that is to win your matches."
Now, his reality and the reality for his players has changed.
They must embrace the qualifiers and salvage something from a season that could go into a tailspin.
"It depends who we draw – if we draw somebody that we can get a result from and begin to build a bit of momentum, then we've been to that place before and we will try and do our best," Harte explained.
"But you could meet something very difficult at this stage as well. That is the difficulty and the danger of the qualifiers. At the same time, I am quite happy that it exists now anyway, rather than be finished for the season."
He continued: "It's a question of licking your wounds, learning from what happened there today and pushing on.
"The boys will be playing plenty of league football now."
* Tyrone have been dealt a blow with the news that defender Dermot Carlin is set to miss the opening round of the qualifiers.
The Killyclogher clubman replaced PJ Quinn at half-time in Ballybofey but then had to come off himself in the 18th minute with a blood injury and played no further part in the game.
It was confirmed yesterday that he has sustained a broken nose that will keep him on the sidelines for six weeks.
It's the latest setback for Carlin who has been plagued with injury this past 12 months.
Last year in the qualifiers against Kerry he picked up an ankle injury after only six minutes which ended his season and while he played in one McKenna Cup game at the beginning of this year he then picked up a knee injury which put him back on the sidelines.