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Tyrone need to win ugly again


Stephen O'Neill and his Tyrone teammates must get over Sunday's loss

Stephen O'Neill and his Tyrone teammates must get over Sunday's loss

INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard

Stephen O'Neill and his Tyrone teammates must get over Sunday's loss

Let's go into uncomfortable territory for a second.Knowing that the appetite for this sort of thing has long been sated with a winter spent analysing the scourge of the cynical foul and black cards, we press on and ask ourselves one question.

Are we alright with how Joe McQuillan permitted Donegal players to stand too close to Niall Morgan's frees on Sunday?

There was nothing wrong with Donegal stationing three broad, tall men in front of a free-taker, nor is there a law against it. In fact, if you use your imagination and put yourself into the body of Niall Morgan, facing that wall of bodies, what would you see?

When they extend their arms, there is a chance that the uprights of the goals could be blocked or obscured. Like all the best concepts, it was simple but it was brilliant.

At some stage this season, Stephen Cluxton will take a free for Dublin. If the opposition do not ape the Donegal tactic, then serious questions should be asked of their manager.

However, there is no question that the Donegal trio were not standing the requisite 13 metres back from the ball. This is the type of casual rule-flaunting that is laughed off by players and not enforced by weak refereeing.

On Monday, former inter-county referee John Bannon opened his column with, 'The one thing you can't say about Ballybofey yesterday was that Joe McQuillan had a poor game.' It's the way he tells 'em.

The referee is there to implement the rules. Letting play flow, facilitating the game and all of those other abstract concepts are not within his domain. Yet it took him until the middle of the second half to pull them up on this.

After doing so, McQuillan turned his back to make his way to the square, whereupon the Donegal players narrowed the gap again with McQuillan's back turned.

All of this does not qualify as an excuse for the Tyrone defeat, it should be added.

In Tyrone, they need to look at their players for allowing this situation to pertain. They should have drawn the referee's attention to this, causing a bit of a dust-up if necessary. Either way, they needed to make this an issue instead of accepting it.

Once Niall Morgan had missed his second free, it was time to bully their way into the game. But they hadn't any character who relished getting stuck into the verbals and all the nasty stuff that is a part of inter-county football at this level.

At the minute, they miss a particular breed of enforcer. They always had them and the bloodline ran from Ryan McMenamin to Paul Donnelly to Noel McGinn and John Lynch. Mickey Harte (pictured) had a phrase for it; 'Wicked wee men.'

Other players they had who never had a problem with throwing their weight around were not always the most fearsome-looking. Peter Canavan wasn't huge, but he never lacked motivation to get stuck in the face of the opposition.

Instead, this Tyrone side got frustrated. Their discipline went into meltdown and it was worrying how much the last 10 minutes resembled their defeat last year in Killarney.

Where to now, for a team that we were talking themselves up as potential All-Ireland contenders in recent weeks, after a league campaign that had shown so many encouraging signs?

On Monday morning, they had drifted out to 16/1 for Sam Maguire, reflecting the gloom felt by the county after the lesson taught by Donegal.

Back in 2008, a patched-up Tyrone side went to Newry for a first-round replay. On a magical evening they lost in extra-time to Ross Carr's men and Mickey Harte's judgement came in for serious debate.

Even as they made their way back to Croke Park and elbowed their way past Mayo in a round four match, Harte was on the radio getting earache from Nudie Hughes about his insistence on playing Sean Cavanagh at full-forward.

We know what happens next but it bears repeating; Tyrone won the All-Ireland and Cavanagh won Player of the Year at full-forward.

Reflecting on that triumph later, Cavanagh recalled that he never heard Harte's voice on the training pitch as much as he had in the weeks after the defeat to Down.

When the Tyrone brains trust run the video tape of Sunday they will realise that the chemistry of the game hung on a couple of incidents that they might have been unfortunate in. The back door will give them the space and time to try a few tweaks.

But right now Harte needs his players to show a reaction. And the players need Harte's voice ringing out in Garvaghey.

Belfast Telegraph