Search icon


22nd May 2016

Make no bones about it, this terrific Tyrone team are capable of winning an All-Ireland

Mikey Stafford

“We thought we could do what Tyrone did, but we couldn’t.”

In defence of Damian Barton, up until very recently, Tyrone were not capable of doing what Tyrone did on Sunday in Celtic Park.

We saw a potential All-Ireland winner in Derry and it was not Barton’s hosts. The Oakleaf men will go away and do some soul-searching after this 3-14 to 0-12 defeat, which paved the way for Tyrone to reach their first Ulster semi-final since 2012.

Since 2012! Imagine. What has Mickey Harte been doing for four years if not challenging in the provincial Championship? He has been building this team of supreme athletes, which has the ability to defend on mass and break at the speed of light.

He has been busy creating a team with the defensive solidity and attacking thrust to win an All-Ireland. It may not be this year, but there is evidence enough there that this group of players can deliver a fourth Sam Maguire for their veteran manager, Mickey Harte.

Evidence? How about Richard Donnelly’s superb point in the second half, which started with a Tyrone turnover on their own 21-yard line. At that point Ronan O’Neill was the only Tyrone man within 90 yards of the Derry goal, but in seconds the ball was over the bar.

The quite wonderful Darren McCurry broke out with the ball and transferred it to the tireless Peter Harte, who transferred it to Donnelly, who tapped it over the bar.

More evidence? Harte’s game-murdering goal on the stroke of half-time. Again, Tyrone broke but this time from midfield. Derry’s defence was set (a rare occurrence for the sorry Oakleafers) but was helpless as Harte ran through the middle of their defence, played a nifty one-two with Sean Cavanagh and finished to the net.

They can break from deep, they can play through a defence and they can score goals.

Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Celtic Park, Derry 22/5/2016 Derry vs Tyrone Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh and Derry's Brendan Rogers Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

Goals have been this team’s kryptonite. They could have beaten Donegal in Ulster last year if they had raised a green flag. But they can raise them now. Raising green flags is the name of the game.

That is why Ronan O’Neill found the net with their very first score. That is why he added a second after a goal-hungry Sean Cavanagh had been denied superbly by Thomas Mallon. That is why Mattie Donnelly was trying to find captain Cavanagh with a low centre late in the first half.

It did not come off that time, but the ambition, the sheer gluttony, was plain to see. All-Ireland semi-finalists last year, Tyrone were strangled by Kerry but had they converted a couple of gilt-edged goal chances they would have faced Dublin on the third Sunday of September.

A season that featured just four goals in seven games was book-ended by goal-shy disappointments. On Sunday, against their most bitter rivals, they bagged three in one all-too-easy outing.

The establishment of a defensive force field, married with a swift counter attack and the ability to strike for goals. That takes an incredible work ethic, sterling fitness levels and drills. Drills, drill, drills, drills.

The fitness is down to the work of Peter Donnelly, the drills are what have been happening while Tyrone have not been competing in Ulster but that work ethic is something else entirely.

A story from Tyrone’s traditional training camp, in Carton House last week, gives some idea of how that ethic has been encouraged. The “A Team” were beaten by the “B Team”, with McCurry reportedly scoring five goals.

He did not start Sunday but was introduced after 21 minutes for the injured Bradley. Harte kept faith with the team that won Division 2, but when one of those substitutes was called on he conjured up a hard-working, team-focused performance.

He didn’t score five goals, but he did notch four points and link the play brilliantly and tirelessly. He will be hard left off the next day, against the winners of Cavan and Armagh.

Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Celtic Park, Derry 22/5/2016 Derry vs Tyrone Players clash on the sidelines Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

In the face of this fast-breaking, goal-breaking machine Derry had little to offer. Worryingly little to offer. If you count pre-season tournaments, leagues and charity games, this was Derry’s fifth defeat to their neighbours this season.

The gap is widening. The gap between the good teams and the not so good teams is definitely widening. Kildare and Wexford were playing a different sport to Tyrone in Croke Park on Saturday evening – a slower, less interesting, more predictable sport.

All Derry could offer was some early bluster in the shape of Cathal McCarron getting bursted over the sideline and Mark Lynch losing his shirt in a touchline tussle.

By the end McCarron, who had to be substituted for his own good, was gesturing to the scoreboard, which had been recording between a nine and 11 point lead for the visitors since Harte cracked in that goal before the break.

Before the end Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue was sent off for an elbow on Colm Cavanagh.

In the first half Lynch had been gesturing at the the referee to show Richard Donnelly a red card for a hit on McKaigue.

Such gestures are unwelcome and, ultimately, useless.

All the cards here were held by the Red Hand.


WATCH: Liverpool BOTTLED the title race 🤬 | Who will win the Premier League?