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Even Ulster title might be beyond Red Hands

I was surprised to read and hear many pundits' positive reports surrounding Tyrone's chances for the remainder of the championship season.

Casement Park, Belfast, last weekend was my first live sighting of the three-time All-Ireland champions and I have to confess I was disappointed with their performance.

It has been difficult to get a good read on their real form and last Saturday offered the type of test I felt would inform us. But after a splendid opening half by the teams, Tyrone, and especially Down, fell away and in the end I sensed neither squad would make late August.

It must be remembered that Down had three clear goal chances to equalise -- first, Danny Hughes' point-blank shot was brilliantly saved; the rebound fell to Benny Coulter but he fluffed his lines and finally when passed to Paul McComiskey, he blazed the ball wide. Tyrone were that close to being caught.

Experience

Down tore into their opponents early on and attempted to play total football as they attacked from all areas of the field. Tyrone countered and used their vast experience to get them back into the game and even led at half time.

Soon after the restart it became apparent Down had emptied the tank in the opening shots for glory. Attempting to finish off an experienced outfit without the fuel to keep going was always going to end in defeat.

Tyrone must factor in the possible loss of Stephen O'Neill (after the match his foot/leg was in a black cast but he was walking), the lack of cutting edge up front and a lack of football sharpness all over the field. It leads me to believe even an Ulster title might be beyond them.

Certainly, Monaghan will ask more varied and difficult questions and provide the acid test that a tired-looking Tyrone side may not be able to answer.

But for now we will see Down improve as the summer rolls along and they might make the All-Ireland quarters. As indeed I expect Tyrone will.

But at this stage, there's no All-Ireland final on the horizon for either of them.


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