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McBurney/Declan Bogue

Pictured Declan Bogue

Date: Thursday 12th April 2012

Location: BT Offices

Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Liam McBurney - RAZORPIX


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Two defeats… but Tyrone had the best pre-season ahead of 2022 mission

Declan Bogue


Armagh ace Jason Duffy finds the net during his side’s victory over Tyrone

Armagh ace Jason Duffy finds the net during his side’s victory over Tyrone

©INPHO/Lorcan Doherty

Armagh ace Jason Duffy finds the net during his side’s victory over Tyrone

Even allowing for the need to create a little hyperbole at this time of the year, the front page headline in January 2009 was, and remains at this remove, hilarious.

Antrim’s footballers were under the new management of Liam Bradley. He had no objection to a number of his star performers playing with their colleges in the Dr McKenna Cup, but he might have wondered about that wisdom after his side lost to Queen’s by 18 points.

If he chose to peruse the news racks the following day, the bold lettering might have struck him: ‘ROCK BOTTOM’.

For losing a McKenna Cup game?

In the same round of fixtures, reigning All-Ireland champions Tyrone found themselves six points down to St Mary’s at half-time. A couple of goals rescued a draw.

It was 13 years ago to the week, but then a lot about GAA feels like another planet. There were remarks passed on Owen Mulligan’s ‘sleek’ appearance in the game against St Mary’s, as if January matches were an opportunity to lie on the grass and work your way through some Regal Filter and cheeseburgers. 

By the end of the season, Bradley had taken Antrim to their first Ulster final in 39 years. And after that defeat to Tyrone, they gave Kerry an enormous fright in a qualifier game in Tullamore. Antrim football had never felt as good in decades, and possibly since.

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There was nobody reflecting on the St Mary’s defeat at that stage.

There was something about that on Sunday when the Galway hurlers were gathering themselves up after getting a licking from Dublin in the Walsh Cup.

This time, the margin was 19 points.

Galway, much like Antrim back then, were in full experimental mode under a brand new manager in his first inter-county posting.

But the name Henry Shefflin carries weight. There is an expectation that the man who ended his playing days as the most successful ever hurler, along with bringing All-Ireland glory to his club Ballyhale as manager, would take off in Galway like a rocket.

Instead, he found himself fielding a bizarre line of enquiry after the game about how he could justify “bedding in as manager” with the margin of defeat. He grew exasperated with the idea that he was bedding in and just repeated that he was actually in situ, no bedding in to it.

It’s difficult to know exactly what the best outcome is for a pre-season.

In 2015, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team had a pre-season challenge match against New York Red Bulls. Surprisingly, the American team fielded a second-string side and yet still won 4-2 against the Blues, who were at that time the Premier League champions.

Afterwards, Mourinho made a point about pre-season games.

“Pre-season is fake, for good and for bad. If you’re very bad, it’s fake. And if you’re too good, it’s fake,” he said.

The fact that Chelsea then went on to produce the worst defence of the crown in the Premier League up to that point could be said to soften his argument, but it’s a stretch all the same.

You can find a million examples to prove or disprove the theory. Back when they really were the kings of European soccer, Liverpool took part in the Rotterdam Tournament in 1983. They finished last, behind Hamburg, Standard Liege and Feyenoord.

The following May, they were European champions again.

Mourinho was right, though. When it comes to pre-season, you cannot believe your own eyes.

There is an argument that the organising bodies have no real right to charge into these games if what they are selling is an illusion. But that’s never going to happen. There are enough people willing to get out of the house and watch any kind of football or hurling and will be entirely fine with their life choice and purchases.

Here’s the bald truth; the only thing that a team, players and management need to ‘get’ out of pre-season is exactly what they ‘need’.

And in that regard, it doesn’t matter who wins the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup. The team that got the very best pre-season are Tyrone and their management team of Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher.

2021 had a definite line drawn under it after their lavish holiday with a hammering from Cavan. And in their derby match last weekend, Armagh laid down a marker.

With a free weekend now, it will be enough to sharpen a few minds, and the odd word, around Garvaghey before they host Monaghan in the first league game on Sunday week.

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