Tyrone will never be more prepared for ultimate test
Tyrone 3-17 Armagh 0-8: Harte’s charges have ingredients to challenge Dublin
Tyrone have now accumulated 6-77 in four championship games. They have taken out Derry, Donegal, Down and Armagh, four counties with All-Ireland pedigree over the last 25 years by an average winning margin of 11-and-a-half points. Their average score posted is almost 24 points per game. They haven't felt a team breathing down their necks this summer.
The hunch is that their game now has all the right ingredients to really test the All-Ireland champions in three weeks' time, the first time that they will meet Jim Gavin's Dublin in a championship match.
In four Croke Park league meetings since 2013 they've won by a point, lost by a point and drawn twice.
And yet, do they really know where they stand?
This was done and dusted as early as the 15th minute when Peter Harte converted a penalty after Mark Bradley had been taken down by James Morgan to post a 1-5 to 0-0 lead.
It was quick profit for Tyrone's attention to Blaine Hughes' kick-out, Harte intercepting on the Cusack Stand side to set the move in motion. Armagh's strength seven days earlier quickly became a weakness.
Give Tyrone that kind of lead and the chase inevitably becomes mired in frustration and failure.
So often Armagh got ball into the final third but were trapped by the web of defenders who rarely leave each other in isolation. Without sufficient support promising moves died quickly.
It was a slow-burn. Those held up in the congestion on the roads into Dublin's north side and missed the early stages effectively missed the game and even though Croke Park had thrown up the 'full house' signs it was eerily silent at times.
It still took Tyrone until the last quarter to press home their advantage, substitute David Mulgrew coming on to get behind the creaking Armagh cover for two goals.
It left Mickey Harte short of complete satisfaction. "We would be unhappy with much of our play. The start of the second-half, I'm sure, was horrible to watch. It was a case of who could give the ball away the quickest and the easiest. That wasn't pretty. Like, if we were playing against someone else that had more of a grip on the game that would be a disaster."
Sobering words to temper an 18-point win over a team that, just three years ago, bumped them out of the championship.
But Armagh showed signs of fatigue from their four-match qualifier recovery. The same energy they showed against Kildare just wasn't there and their decision-making up front especially was perplexing.
Unsurprisingly Jamie Clarke was afforded little room. Tracked by Cathal McCarron Armagh couldn't find him often enough and when they did there was pressure on instantly.
It left the Crossmaglen man frustrated, lucky to receive yellow instead of black for a challenge on Declan McClure and luckier again to avoid a red in a later incident.
As it was, both sides finished the game with 14 men. Armagh's Rory Grugan was shown black when all six substitutes had been introduced while Cathal McCarron, for the second successive match, picked up two yellows.
But in truth the game lacked the edge historically attached to this rivalry.
Tyrone's control of possession through the middle is their most striking feature. In Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly and Niall Sludden they have a trio of ball carriers and play makers who dictate everything, each one a prime decision-maker in possession.
As well as the penalty, Harte scored two points and was fouled for four of the five converted frees but his prints were over just about everything.
Behind that triangle of creativity Tiernan McCann was always able to inject pace into the line while Colm Cavanagh, described as "gold dust" by Harte afterwards as he reflected on the hip injury that forced him out in the 59th minute after a collision with Brendan Donaghy, made so many telling interceptions and blocks in his sweeping role.
Cavanagh opened the scoring as Tyrone took a 1-8 to 0-4 lead in at the break. Older brother Sean drew level with Marc and Tomas O Se and Stephen Cluxton on 88 championship appearances (before Cluxton moved on to 89 later in the evening). Significantly, he also played the full 77 minutes or so.
In keeping with their provincial campaign their discipline was impressive with another single figure tally of conceded frees posted.
As to whether they have been suitably tested or not, the Tyrone boss was indifferent.
"There's always some reason why someone isn't as good as they think they are, or as someone else thinks they are," he said.
"People have to have a reason to say, 'this can't be true' or 'these boys can't be as good a team as it appears by these scorelines.' And that may be the case. But we can only do what we can do right now, we've done what we've done in our four games in the Championship and it's got us to a decent place."
Kieran McGeeney had delegated post-match media duties to other back room members throughout the championship but after a defeat like this was always going to present himself.
A month of progress had taken a battering.
"When the game is over you're left with the facts staring you in the face. We retracted into our shell a wee bit, missed easy chances, ran into cul-de-sacs. I think we're a better team than we showed," he said.
If it was 2018 they'd have two more quarter-final games to move on to. After such a loss, how would he feel about that?
"I've played in games, club games, where you beat fellas by 13 points and the next day, because of an extra sub, you were playing them again and the following week it was a draw. Things can happen," he reflected.
"Over time fellas realise that, despite what people see out there, there's not a big difference between county players in different counties. But there is a big difference in how they think. Having success behind you is a big part of that, or an environment or a culture where people constantly look for perfection and to push on.
"It's harder in those counties that don't get that because everybody says 'you're wasting your time, come back here and work with the club.'
"But there's a constant driving force in those other counties. I do think I'd rather be in that eight taking defeats like that, learning from it and be pushing on than be sitting on the sidelines looking on at it."
Scorers - Tyrone: D Mulgrew 2-1, P Harte 1-2 (1-0 pen), S Cavanagh 0-4 (3fs), M Bradley 0-3, N Morgan 0-2 (2fs), T McCann, C Cavanagh,D McClure, M Donnelly, D McCurry all 0-1 each. Armagh - R Grugan 0-3 (2fs), M Shields, P Hughes, N Grimley (f), J Clarke, G McParland all 0-1 each.
Tyrone - N Morgan 7; A McRory 7, R McNamee 7, C McCarron 7; T McCann 8, P Hampsey 7, P Harte 9; C Cavanagh 8, C McCann 6; M Donnelly 8, N Sludden 8, K McGeary 6; M Bradley 7, S Cavanagh 7, D McClure 6. Subs: D McCurry 5 for McGeary (44), D Mulgrew 9 for C McCann (44), R O'Neill 6 for Bradley (50), R Brennan 6 for McRory (50), R Donnelly 5 for McClure (58), J McMahon 6 for C Cavanagh (59)
Armagh - B Hughes 6; J Morgan 6, C Vernon 7, P Hughes 6; J McElroy 5, B Donaghy 7, M Shields 5; S Sheridan 6, N Grimley 6; R Grugan 6, C O'Hanlon 5, A Forker 6; J Clarke 6, S Campbell 5, G McParland 6. Subs: O O'Neill 7 for O'Hanlon (30), A Duffy 5 for Shields BC (33), E Rafferty 6 for Campbell (46), B Crealey 5 for McParland (51), C McKeever 5 for Grimley (55), D McKenna 6 for Sheridan BC (58)
Ref - David Gough (Meath)