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Tyrone will keep digging deep in glory tilt: McGeary

 

By Declan Bogue

It's early August and Tyrone are getting their heads around an All-Ireland semi-final against Monaghan this weekend, but the signs are all positive.

From the wreckage of their first-round Ulster Championship defeat to the same opposition, Red Hands manager Mickey Harte is showing that he has a fleet of dangerous subs that thrive when he rolls them out during the second half of games when things are in the balance.

There were signs of exactly that against Dublin when they left it a little too late for their big push, but it came off gloriously against Donegal when, in the 39th minute, Harte introduced Lee Brennan - who hit four points - and Kieran McGeary -who followed up his two points against Dublin with an inspirational one to trim Donegal's lead to a single point, with the next score a goal from fellow sub Harry Loughran.

McGeary said of the last-quarter push: "It's never something you plan for, but there's a 15-minute window of opportunity in the second half when you just have to go for it. If you can pull away from a team, that's where the winning of the game can be."

Their willingness to break out of the conservative straitjacket they have confined themselves in during first halves was personified by McGeary, who took on Hugh McFadden before angling over his shot from distance.

He said: "When that 15-minute opportunity presents itself, you have got to be direct. Boys are feeling their legs go at that stage and if you put a man on the back foot and you score, he starts to question himself. I know if it happened to myself and somebody scored a point like that, I'd question my fitness for the last 10 minutes as well."

Fitness and recovery will be in sharp focus during the week as Monaghan will have had eight days of recovery since their Super8s win over Galway, and Tyrone less than seven, when the two clash on Sunday.

Leaving Ballybofey on Sunday evening, Tyrone players had their compression trousers on, with Harte warning that they had a mere seven hours to savour the victory.

"It is a strange scenario, but at the same time it's been so enjoyable, even the back door run," said McGeary. "Obviously we'd have loved to be provincial champions but that back door run was enjoyable, training is enjoyable.

"You're playing a match every weekend, there's a good buzz that builds from playing so often. There's no waiting about, no sitting about feeling sorry about your wee niggles, you get back up and get at it again and look forward to the next day."

The prospect of Monaghan in Croke Park brings its own challenges.

Earlier this season, Monaghan accounted for Tyrone in a Saturday night league game in Castleblayney, even having the luxury of leaving Conor McManus on the bench until the 48th minute.

However, Tyrone have had the upper hand in Croke Park, beating Monaghan in All-Ireland quarter-finals in 2013 and 2015 when Malachy O'Rourke's squad entered as Ulster champions.

And for added context, while Monaghan knocked Tyrone out of Ulster in the first round in Omagh, McGeary believes that result will have no relevance this Sunday.

"I don't think either team really showed what they were capable of. I think both teams held back and continued to be very safe," McGeary added.

"I know Monaghan definitely didn't show their abilities that day and obviously we didn't show our abilities either.

"Next week is do it or die trying, we just have to go for it"

Meanwhile, the longest-serving inter-county player has announced his retirement.

Fermanagh's Ryan McCluskey has called it a day after 19 years service to the Erne County, with a hip injury forcing the issue.

This now leaves Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton as the longest-serving player in Gaelic football, having made his Championship debut a fortnight after McCluskey in 2001.

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