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20th Jan 2022

Tyrone shouldn’t be worried about McKenna Cup performances, but players leaving the panel could be a concern

Lee Costello

Four Tyrone players have opted out of the panel for 2022.

The Tyrone team weren’t two minutes home from their team holiday in the States, before they had to line out against Cavan in the first round of the McKenna Cup.

Despite fielding four of their All-Stars, and then the added substitutions of Conor Meyler and Con Kilpatrick, who all started in September’s All-Ireland final, the Division four side absolutely dismantled the champions 1-17 to 0-05.

Considering that just a couple of days earlier the team were enjoying a well deserved holiday where they could over-indulge in a way that county players rarely can, it was understandable that they would be off the pace.

Fast forward another week and they’re up against Armagh, a well oiled Division one side, improving year by year under Kieran McGeeney, and although they lost by three points in the end, they were much better, clearly having a few cobwebs blown off.

Despite being all conquering last season, they are still human, so to not be up to championship level at this stage of the year shouldn’t concern their fans, as it’s a long way to go to summer.

However, the news that Mark Bradley, Hugh Pat McGeary, Ronan O’Neill and Michael Cassidy have all opted out of the panel this season, is a bit of a blow for the Sam Maguire holders.

Mark Bradley started in the Ulster final against Monaghan, scoring two points, and came on against Kerry in the semi-final, but didn’t see any game time against Mayo in the final.

One can only imagine that given the enormous commitment it takes to play for any county, never mind the one that went on to win the entire thing, that it must be hugely frustrating and difficult to make those sacrifices, while not playing as regularly as you would have liked.

Having players like Ronan O’Neill in the panel bring huge benefits, not least because of his personality and popular status in the group, but the fact that Padraig Hamspey, Michael McKernan and co, have to mark a forward of his calibre every day in training.

Quite often they would line out for a league or championship match and mark someone that doesn’t have the same quality, so their preparation would have been top tier.

McGeary and Cassidy have been around the squad a long time, so they will be a big miss in the dressing room, and it’s a different feeling to when someone retires because of their age, as these lads are all in their prime.

You always heard about the stories in the Dublin camp, of players pushing themselves to beyond their limits just make to the 26-man panel.

Bernard Brogan, arguably one of the best forwards to ever play the game, speaks about how he basically put his life on hold in 2019, just to try and get that number 26 jersey.

To have that sort of depth not just in quality, but in sheer ravenous hunger, is something that is a part of every great All-Ireland winning team.

However, players leaving a county panel happens every year, it’s part and parcel of the game, and Brian Dooher and Fergal Logan, although disappointed, will also have full confidence that the squad can be bolstered elsewhere.

Lee Brennan is a curious case, he exploded onto the scene in 2018 as a young star who will become the focal point of Tyrone’s attack, but soon opted out of the panel himself, not seeing room in Mickey Harte’s system.

With new management in place, he was quickly back in the fold, but still didn’t see the sort of game time that he would have liked last year.

The Trillick star has started both games in the McKenna Cup and was particularly impressive against Armagh, no doubt fighting to seize his opportunity in the team.

Then you have the likes of Cathal McShane and Darragh Canavan, who played vital roles last year as impact subs due to problems with injuries, but they will want to move away from that this season, and be starters in the team.

Players win matches but squads win championships, and the perfect blend of an All-Ireland winning squad is hard to get right, so naturally, Tyrone fans may feel nervous seeing players of this level leave the panel.

However, it makes room for other players to get an opportunity, and there’s no doubt that Tyrone is bursting with top quality footballers, so we just have to wait and see if the management can get the cohesion just right.

Given their track record of one season in charge, one Ulster championship and one All-Ireland title already in the bag, we have no reason to doubt them.

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