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Tyrone can learn from heartbreak

By Declan Bogue

Ten years ago, with Sam Maguire safely brought home across the border into Tyrone, those within the county allowed themselves to dream of a dominance.

The building blocks undoubtedly were in place.

Forty three acres of rough ground had been purchased in Garvaghey to develop a GAA Centre to allow Tyrone teams to train in the kind of comfort enjoyed by professional sports clubs.

As well as capturing their third senior All-Ireland in six seasons, the minors added another All-Ireland a week later with a team powered by the likes of Matthew Donnelly, Peter Harte and Ronan McNabb.

Ulster GAA publication Gaelic Life carried an article detailing the various players that would maintain their levels of performance. It is instructive to read that back now.

It just never happened for some of the brighter lights. Raymond Mulgrew was on the 2008 panel and expected to emerge over the next couple of years to be the creative hub of the team.

Niall McGinn opted for a career in soccer, scoring a goal for Northern Ireland in the European Championships of 2016.

There was a deep fear when Kyle Coney opted to play Australian Rules football with Sydney Swans, and much rejoicing when he opted out a few months later. After a number of opportunities, he was eventually cut from the senior squad in January 2015.

The dominance never took root. Instead, Mickey Harte managed a period of decline while keeping them competitive by winning the odd Ulster title and reaching the latter stages of the All-Ireland Championship.

With defeat to Dublin in Sunday's All-Ireland final, thoughts turn to the depth chart in Tyrone club football and if there is a secret forward out there that could transform them from hopeful challengers to champions.

However, the evidence would indicate that there are no obvious candidates. The leading scorer in Division One club football right now is Darren McCurry, who left the county squad earlier this year frustrated at the lack of opportunity.

The lists of Division Two and Three are dominated by veteran players, almost invariably free takers towards the end of their careers or else having no real record at inter-county level.

As recently as Monday, Harte bristled at the mention of the term 'marquee forward', but these things are often down for interpretation.

In the era of Colm Cooper, Maurice Fitzgerald, Peter Canavan and Paddy Bradley, a player such as Dean Rock might not have been regarded in that company, but is there a more vital forward in the game today, with his 88% accuracy from frees?

By contrast, Tyrone's free-taking has been an issue ever since the retirement of Canavan.

So here is a curve ball. What about Peter's son, Darragh Canavan?

Yes, he is very young, at just 18. And he still has yet to play a game for Errigal Ciaran seniors, although that is expected to change in the forthcoming weeks with the senior Championship fixture against Carrickmore looming.

As of now, he is being allowed to develop in his own time. He was outstanding in Errigal's recent minor Championship winning team but did not go out to the Tyrone Under-20s.

But he's not that far off the age his father Peter was when he first played for Tyrone seniors, and only a couple of years away from David Clifford who, at 19, is sure to pick up his first All-Star this winter.

And it's not as if Harte is opposed to using young talents. His assistant, Gavin Devlin, is uncle of DD Mulgrew, who was kept out of this summer with a shoulder injury but was a regular starter last year while still in his teens.

It should not be underestimated how hard it can be for young men to transition into seniors, as laid out by Padraig Hampsey, who spoke on his first few months among the seniors and how his Coalisland clubmate Peter Donnelly, Tyrone's Athletic Development coach, guided him through it.

"He was always going to tell you your first year will be a complete shock to the system," said Hampsey.

"The overload of training, you are not going to be used to. Just don't worry about it, he said. Stick at it and you'll get used to it."

A quick look at Tyrone's leaders now has to include Matthew Donnelly, Niall Sludden and Kieran McGeary, all of whom resisted Harte's advances to get up to speed physically before starting their Tyrone careers.

On Monday afternoon, around half four, the Tyrone team bus crawled into Aughnacloy main street as the first town after they came back into their own county.

A stage was set up where former county chairman Cuthbert Donnelly invited Mickey Harte and captain Donnelly to make speeches. A losing homecoming is a form of torture for players who are almost universally embarrassed by the fuss.

The club programme kicks back in this weekend. Players' minds will stop spinning like a tumble dryer as more earthy concerns take precedence.

The club Championships will sharpen their appetite and, while it may not turn up much, Tyrone will know so much more about themselves in 2019 than they did in January of this year. For now, 2019 will take care of itself.

Belfast Telegraph

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