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McClure lifted by dad's words of advice



Final hopes: Tyrone’s Declan McClure with the McKenna Cup

Final hopes: Tyrone’s Declan McClure with the McKenna Cup

Declan’s dad Harry in action in the 1986 showpiece against Kerry

Declan’s dad Harry in action in the 1986 showpiece against Kerry

Final hopes: Tyrone’s Declan McClure with the McKenna Cup

It was one of those duties that seem like a living nightmare to endure. Tyrone were returning home the day after they had lost convincingly in the All-Ireland final to Dublin.

They were set for Healy Park and a peculiar type of homecoming, but, as the first town within county boundaries, Aughnacloy has always been a traditional pit stop.

Players sheepishly got off the team bus and onto the back of a flatbed lorry. Crowds cheered but for any player recounting these occasions, the feeling is of being hollowed out.

Midfielder Declan McClure said four months on: "Whenever you lose a big game like that, it is the last thing you want to do. You want to be left alone, but that's not real life either. You have to move on.

"You are back at it again this year and can't let last year affect all that.

"It's like anything, sometimes it is all about gritting the teeth, trying your best in pre-season and trying to improve through the year, getting the lads to click.

"There's so much that goes into it. All those nights and Saturday mornings in Garvaghey, it is all put into practice and is all worth it when you get there."

McClure is heading into his fourth year on the panel and is in a unique position in that if he needed help putting an All-Ireland final defeat into context, he only had to look across the sofa to his father Harry.

McClure senior suffered the same fate in 1986 when Tyrone reached their first ever All-Ireland final and, despite early dominance - established through Harry's aerial ability - they eventually crumbled.

"I'd say for the first two, three days at the dinner table there wasn't as much chat as there used to be," said McClure junior of the period following September's final.

"After a few more days he was coming round and telling me how he was when they lost it and how he took himself away from it.

"He would have done the exact same thing; sat down in the corner of the living room and whenever everyone else was in the kitchen he stuck the video player on, looking at the game.

"He was going over stuff in his head and then he said, 'You can't let that one game let you down. There are plenty of big days ahead of you and plenty to come yet. The main thing is not to drop the head, keep it held high, work harder the next year and try to get over the line'."

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has said already that the experience of getting to an All-Ireland final can only be useful if it is harnessed and lessons are learned. It sounds like the philosophy is dripping down through his players.

McClure said: "For me personally, it was a big experience. I'd never been there before. It was something completely different. Definitely one of the biggest things I have ever done in my career, probably one of the biggest things I will do in my life.

"Things didn't go our way, but it was an experience and you have to build on that, use it for this year and try to adapt and make sure you go a bit further and get there again, and get over the line this time."

Just like his father, he has gone through the exquisite torture of watching the final back - trying to search for clues, shortcomings or encouragement that the gap between Dublin and the rest is not as big as some of their more excitable cheerleaders maintain it is.

"You look at the Dubs at the moment, they are an outstanding team. Great players. Really well set up. They train hard and for any team to match them it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Hopefully this year we can get up to that level," he said.

Over the last few weeks, a hotchpotch of Tyrone teams with talents - some reinvented and some brand new - have made it back to the McKenna Cup final. Most of the 2018 squad are easing themselves back into things after a team holiday in Thailand.

Contrary to reports, they weren't holding training sessions. No footballs were brought. If lads wanted to open up the pores in the morning with a gym session then sure, but there was nobody ticking off a chart.

"It was good to get away with boys you would be training with five, six times a week, to get away together," said McClure.

"We did a bit of banana boating, a bit of jet-skiing, that was the height of it. We tended to stay in around the resort by the pool, try to get a bit of sun."

While there, he resumed his role as the resident DJ and Master of Ceremonies among the panel, the music of Tupac Shakur being a personal favourite, but his tastes are broad, as some footage from the dressing room celebrations following the All-Ireland semi-final win over Monaghan showed.

Growing up in Clonoe, he was only 10 minutes from the Moy Bridge and the county boundary to the east.

"Close enough to be aware of the rivalry!" he added, looking ahead to tonight's Dr McKenna Cup final engagement in the Athletic Grounds.

"Even when you are younger, watching Tyrone play Armagh, it is one of the biggest games in county football and you cannot wait to be part of that rivalry some day."

It's not quite the same. But it'll do for January.

Armagh vs Tyrone

Dr McKenna Cup Final

Athletic Grounds, Today, 7.30pm

Belfast Telegraph