Tyrone are proven experts at rebuilding the season via qualifier route
Published 06/08/2015 | 02:30
Tyrone endured bad experiences with the qualifiers early on, but nobody has revived their ambitions more often than Mickey Harte's men through the 'back door' since then.
They have won 24, drawn one and lost only four of 29 qualifiers over 15 seasons. Significantly too, they won the 2005 and 2008 All-Ireland titles via the qualifiers.
Despite that impressive record, the markets have them as the most unloved of the six remaining title contenders (28/1).
However, there's a growing confidence in Tyrone that the season is a long way from finished. And while they will start as outsiders against Monaghan on Saturday (4.00pm), that's based purely on the latter's status as Ulster champions.
Monaghan beat Tyrone by a point in last year's Ulster Championship but, prior to that, the Red Hand won the duel on five occasions over the last 10 years.
Monaghan were fancied to beat Tyrone in Croke Park two years ago, but suffered a similar fate to many others in previous seasons.
Tyrone won by two points after again proving just how difficult they are to break down. That's still the case as Limerick, Meath, Tipperary and Sligo discovered in the recent qualifiers.
Granted, all four are Division 2 and 3 teams, but the fact that they were restricted to an average of 0-10 suggests that Harte's capacity to align a defence into an ultra-secure unit hasn't diminished in any way.
Donegal hit them for 1-13 in the Ulster first round but Tyrone were unlucky not have returned more that 1-10, having come very close to scoring two goals late on.
Prior to that, Tyrone had the third best defensive record in Division 1 behind Dublin and Donegal. It wasn't enough to avoid relegation, but that's somewhat misleading since Tyrone lost only three of seven games, a yield bettered only by Cork and Dublin.
However, Tyrone drew three games, costing them valuable points. Two of the draws were against All-Ireland favourites Dublin and Kerry, while Tyrone beat Mayo in Castlebar.
Their worst experience came against Monaghan when they lost by seven points after leading by five in the first half.
Losing to Donegal for a fourth time in five years despatched Tyrone to the qualifier track, but they are now rejoining the faster lanes with renewed self-belief.
"We feel as confident as anybody going into the last eight that we can have a shot at going into the last four," said Harte after the win over Sligo last Saturday.
Monaghan, who have yet to win a quarter-final from three attempts, will have noted that.