Harte upbeat on Croke Park clash
Almost an hour after Marty Duffy had blown the final whistle, with the ball back in Tyrone hands and one point between themselves and victorious Kerry, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte remained on the field happily posing with children for photographs, signing autographs and swapping chit-chat with similarly star-struck adults.
Beating Kerry wasn't all that important, but finding out things about themselves in the heat of the 2-12 to 1-16 defeat was a priority. With the help of an influential wind in the second half, they have plenty of comfort to call upon.
Back in 2009 these two played a remarkably-similar game in the second round of the National League. That day the Kingdom found scores similarly easy to come by as they walked the first half. It was thought there was no way back but inside the dressing room Harte gave his players new jerseys, telling them to get back out with a new attitude for the second half.
On Sunday, there was no need for such gestures, insisted captain Stephen O'Neill.
“You don’t have to say much to any team that’s 11 points down. Everyone knew what they had to do so we just had to get on with it,” he said.
Their spirit delighted Harte, who said: “The good thing about it would be that the players decided they could climb that mountain and almost did.
“It would have been very easy to get slaughtered there today — all that was needed was for Kerry to tag on a few scores and for us to throw in the towel. They didn’t do that, they fought to the very end.”
Part of the problem with playing against such a stiff breeze was coping with Colm Cooper who, in his new berth at centre-forward, gave expression to his entire repertoire of feints, dummies and skills. His delightful contribution was acknowledged by Harte.
“It was so easy to get the ball to him when the breeze was on your back and he could scheme out around the middle of the field or just on the front side of their half and pick up ball there. We had to be on guard, covering the longer ball into Kieran Donaghy and so we were betwixt and between and that cost us,” he said.
Eleven points down at half-time, Tyrone were in significant arrears but had made significant adjustments. For all Ryan McKenna and Ronan McNamee's promise as wing-backs they are raw yet, so sending on Conor Gormley and Conor Clarke was exactly what was needed.
Gormley landed a real up-and-under effort from distance on 48 minutes, while Clarke also drove forward to help himself to a brace of points as Tyrone made the wind advantage, and their own momentum, count.
While they never managed to bridge the gap, Gormley appeared satisfied at the finish enough to reflect on a league campaign back among the big boys.
“I think Tyrone being in Division One all year was a big plus for us,” he began, before referring to the young players that have flavoured the new squad. “In their first season playing for Tyrone they have come on leaps and bounds, that's what it is all about, learning in every game.
“Alright, a couple came off today, but they will learn from that too. There is great experience playing [Kerry] and it's not often you get experience playing against boys like that.”
He expects them to show up for the business end of the year, as well.
“When you have players like Colm Cooper, Paul Galvin, Kieran Donaghy and the O'Sullivans in your team they are going to be hard to watch,” he added.
“They have that calibre of players up front especially and the likes of the OSes back there and Aidan O'Mahony to come back as well. I would never write Kerry off no matter how bad they are going.”
Attentions will now turn towards Croke Park this weekend when Tyrone face Kildare in the semi-final. When they met in the league, Kieran McGeeney's side lagged six points behind at the end, an outcome Harte (below left) insists will have little bearing on Sunday's fixture.
“We will know each other anyway, seeing as we only played them a few weeks ago. I'm sure Kildare will want to do better than the last day they played us,” he said.
“They had a lot of chances early in the second half and missed the first four or five and had no return from that. All we could do was tag on a few points and stay ahead.”
He concluded: “I don't think that will be any reflection on this game. This is Croke Park, it's a semi-final, it's a knockout, I don't think either of us will be leaning on that game.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital