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McShane appearance a surprise, says Harte after victory

Tyrone 1-14 Meath 1-09

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Closed down: Tyrone’s Liam Rafferty clashes with Robin Clarke yesterday

Closed down: Tyrone’s Liam Rafferty clashes with Robin Clarke yesterday

�INPHO/Evan Logan

Closed down: Tyrone’s Liam Rafferty clashes with Robin Clarke yesterday

A five-point win for Tyrone to open their league campaign and push them up towards the top of the table, but some wistful looks among their Healy Park support were cast in the direction of a certain flame-haired lad from Leckpatrick in the stands.

Cathal McShane, just back from a spell in Australia auditioning for a career in Australian Rules Football with Adelaide Crows, decided to take himself along to the game.

Chat around the county suggests that he has already left the Tyrone squad WhatsApp group and for manager Mickey Harte, he might have hoped McShane saw something that would make him reverse his ambitions Down Under.

"I didn't know he was back from Australia," admitted Harte.

"I had been talking to him before he went out there and knew he was going out for 10-15 days at least. I didn't know he was back and he didn't tell me he had landed back in our world yet.

"I am sure if he is there, I will be talking to him during the week."

Asked if he would be the one doing the dialling, he played down the significance while also sending a subtle message that they will want some closure soon.

"I don't think there is any big deal in that. Whatever way it happens, it doesn't matter. All we need to know is the final decision. Is he going to be there for us this year or is he going to be in Australia? When he gives us that final decision we will know where we stand," he said.

Meath goalkeeper Andrew Colgan picked up an injury in the warm-up, forcing manager Andy McEntee into a hasty change and inserting Dominic Yorke between the sticks.

It wasn't a happy debut for the Meath Hill man as four of his kick-outs were turned over before he was replaced by Barry Dardis at half-time.

Things got even worse in the second period. Dardis is an outfield player, though played as a goalkeeper before in last year's O'Byrne Cup. He had no fewer than eight kick-outs gobbled up by Tyrone, giving them a serious platform to push on in the second half after going in a point up at the break, 1-5 to 1-4.

With Meath participating in their first game in the top flight since 2006, there was an onus upon them to get up to speed, and fast.

They nearly had the ball in the net in the first minute when Ben Brennan intercepted a loose Conor Meyler pass and, through Thomas O'Reilly, played a pass over the top to Cillian O'Sullivan, who burned past Hugh Pat McGeary to cut inside only for Tyrone netminder Niall Morgan to stand up well and smother the shot.

A minute later, a clever Ronan O'Neill pass almost played Michael Cassidy in for Tyrone, but he failed to gather.

Darren McCurry opened the scoring with a free, which was cancelled out by Eamonn Wallace before two goals arrived.

From a Tyrone kick-out, Colm Cavanagh played a ball to O'Neill. He produced another special pass to McCurry, who found the roof of the net.

A few minutes later, Meath forward Brennan played a clever ball over the top of the Red Hands defensive line to release Bryan McMahon, who drilled his shot low to the net.

Otherwise, it was a patchy Tyrone performance in the opening period. Short of injury victim and captain Matthew Donnelly, the aforementioned McShane, the honeymooning Peter Harte and Connor McAliskey, who has opted out, they struggled for scores. Padraig Hampsey and Richie Donnelly were also other notable absences through injury.

Harte's response was to send in the sprightly Mark Bradley for his first taste of action after sitting out last year while studying in England. He notched two points and his movement meant he got on the ball in dangerous positions. He was aided by Liam Rafferty on several occasions, the young Galbally defender also helping himself to an excellent brace of points.

Kyle Coney and DD Mulgrew were also unloaded from the bench and with Meath failing to score for 27 minutes, the marked difference between Division One and Two, where Meath emerged from last year, became a chasm.

Long-term residents of the top flight see conditioning as a year-round project and while most counties can get to a certain level by mid-summer for the Championship, Meath will have learned many lessons from this. After falling so badly to a clearly understrength Tyrone, it could be a long campaign for them.

McCurry, with 1-6 to his name, looks to be putting a nice run of form together. Niall Sludden's point as one of the last actions of the game from an acute angle speaks of a man growing with confidence as games wear on.

It's now on to Castleblayney and Monaghan next Sunday, and another reunion between Harte and Seamus McEnaney. When asked what he wanted more than most out of a league campaign, Harte unflinchingly replied: "I'd love to get that shiny trophy at the end of it."

Wouldn't he just.

Belfast Telegraph