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Tyrone down but in a better place despite relegation

By Declan Bogue

What a difference a week can make. The Sunday before, Tyrone players and management looked ashen-faced as they filed out of Ballybofey, a 10-point defeat leaving them devastated.

One week on, a draw against Kerry, was one of those draws that felt like a loss, as even a one-point win would have kept them in the top division. Quite astonishing when you consider how they went in search of much-needed goals at the end and the energy spent in the pursuit of them. Such is the excitement of the final day of the league.

A number of Tyrone figures emerged from the shadows. Tony Donnelly was back on the line as Mickey Harte recovers from his bladder operation, and Joe McMahon was back in the engine-room for the second half.

"It's been a challenging enough year with the workload, the post-grad," explained the 31-year-old Omagh man, pursuing a teaching qualification since September in the University of Ulster, Coleraine.

"I still have a few weeks left, up until June-time and I definitely have had the support of Mickey and the Tyrone set-up. I have been working away with my club in the meantime but the step-up to county level is another level."

While McMahon left the squad in late January, it was revealed in the Belfast Telegraph that he had been also been maintaining fitness with Tyrone's strength and conditioning coach Peter Donnelly, along with fellow veteran Dermot Carlin.

He said that, mentally, the break worked in his favour, but added: "The demands were equalled by the workload of the post-grad as well and there was plenty of work with that."

On Sunday, anyone at the game will have noticed the latest display of Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice's pragmatism. Not only did Kerry frequently bring 13 men behind the ball while defending, they also committed 34 fouls.

McMahon can see how the success Tyrone enjoyed in breaking Kerry down can translate for them against Donegal in the Ulster preliminary Championship clash in six week's time.

"It's always labelled against the northern teams, having defensive systems, but Kerry set up like that as well," he added.

"Thankfully at times, we did break it down, it's how you attack that system and we will look at that and take positives from that."

Perhaps in time, this draw will begin to feel like a win. McMahon also took encouragement from the forthcoming busy club schedule and the time they have to prepare for the Championship.

"It's good to have that time, but there is that other thing of us going back to play club football. I think there is three weeks at least, maybe four.

"At the same time, we are training during the week and then going and playing the games at the weekend.

"These lads have been working together on their systems of play in training and the more they have been working at them the better you become at it."

Referring to Mickey Harte's absence, Tyrone selector Gavin Devlin said: "We knew that this operation was coming and we had time to prepare for it. It was a tough week, of course it was. I wouldn't want to be going out there too often without him.But he'll be back so we are not worried."

Onto the other familiar face. Is Tony Donnelly's return a cameo or a permanent arrangement? "He's out there smoking a cigar, you can go and ask him," joked Devlin.

He went on: "At the beginning of the year Tony decided to step aside and when Mickey asked him to come in and help out on the line today, he was more than willing to do it.

"Now that he's helped out one day, maybe he can make that last for two or three more months -well I hope so anyway. It would be good to have Tony about, of course it would."

And quizzed if that recent rotten day in Ballybofey would ensure Tyrone go in under the radar, he replied: "I know people read into stats and rightfully so, but every day is different.

"We'll have to do a lot better than we've been doing to get over Donegal in a few weeks time, but we'll be ready."

Curiously, despite relegation, Tyrone appear to be in a much better place.

Belfast Telegraph


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