Belfast Telegraph

Mickey Harte's Tyrone are not ready to be judged just yet

Footnote: Ronan McNamee shows off his fluorescent boots, but Tyrone are yet to meet the big guns due to their season in Division Two
Footnote: Ronan McNamee shows off his fluorescent boots, but Tyrone are yet to meet the big guns due to their season in Division Two
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Last Sunday, a fellow journalist turned to me in the press box and asked about Tyrone full-back Ronan McNamee's boots.

One was bright yellow. The other was bright pink. I began to explain that although they were two different colours, that's the way kids are doing things nowadays and that they come as a set.

He interrupted me with: "Yeah, I know but…" with the weary resignation of a seventh-generation farmer watching the auction of his holdings from a safe distance, after foreclosure on his property.

Flamboyant boots are nothing new in Croke Park. Galway hurler Gerry McInerney wore a pair acquired in America 30 years ago.

In 2008, Ryan McMenamin chose the All-Ireland final as the stage to unveil his bright new white boots. That takes guts. There is something of a link now between the team of McMenamin and McNamee's neighbour, Brian Dooher. A sense that this Tyrone team have ditched the excuses and what Mickey Harte referred to as "energy-sappers" hanging around the squad.

After Dublin's demolition of Kerry last Sunday, there is even talk that Tyrone might be the side best equipped to stop Jim Gavin's team.

The season so far has been a cautious success for Tyrone. They laid a couple of early markers down on Derry ahead of their Ulster Championship opener and hoovered up trophies like an anteater.

When the team of last decade were at their best, there was always a snarling face on most of the protagonists. Conor Gormley, Dooher, McMenamin and others were never keen on popularity contests.

A trait that seemed ingrained in that team was that whenever the opposition conceded a free for over-carrying, they would instantly wrestle the ball away to take the free quickly, throwing in a few comments for good measure.

Sometimes it drove opponents over the edge, such as the 2007 Ulster semi-final win over Donegal, when a frustrated Colm McFadden struck Dooher after the Tyrone captain got up in his grill. A sore jaw for Dooher, a red for McFadden.

It was used almost as a psychological device and was seen again last Sunday. For Tyrone fans who watched the team bullied in Championship defeats to Dublin (2011), Kerry (2012) and Armagh (2014), it must have been heartening.

With the attitude, they have a frightening level of conditioning. The acquisition of Peter Donnelly to become their strength and conditioning coach was an obvious move and he has knitted in well.

Harte believes he is a better, more experienced manager than a decade ago and that was perhaps reflected in his diplomatic stance last winter when some county board members wanted him removed, only to see an overwhelming vote in his favour by club delegates. In the meantime, Harte has parked the issue.

Personnel-wise, they have a sticky full-back line in Aidan McCrory, McNamee and Cathal McCarron. Their half-back line has serious dynamism with Rory Brennan and Tiernan McCann, who has to be on anyone's team of the league.

Colm Cavanagh now rivals Cian O'Sullivan as the best sweeper in the game and although they could do with one more high-fielding midfielder, they are coming down with tidy footballers to fill the jerseys that used to be occupied by half-forwards, but are now worn by players fitting into the system. With Lee Brennan, Ronan O'Neill, Connor McAliskey and Darren McCurry they possess a firepower to complement Sean Cavanagh.

With all this in mind, are Tyrone the team to take down Dublin?

Last year in early March, Tyrone came to Croke Park and pulled every man behind the ball. It took a Dean Rock goal in the 69th minute to rescue a draw for Dublin. The last three meetings before that, there was only the minimum in it.

But Tyrone carry the health warning of a season in Division Two. They didn't have to revisit the horrors of their Killarney meeting with Kerry in 2014, or a tricky journey to Castlebar. And they never had to stare down neighbours Donegal, or Monaghan - who need to put a few things right.

The moment we know Tyrone are ready to take out Dublin is after they face Kerry, Mayo, Donegal or the Dubs themselves.

Until then, we are only reaching in the dark.

Belfast Telegraph


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