Setting aside club rivalries the key to Tyrone march into final -- Colton
TYRONE football is on such a roll these days that it's no surprise that their women have reached their first TG4 All-Ireland Senior Football final on Sunday.
Yet to finally get to a decider -- against Dublin -- they've had to eradicate the sort of bitter club rivalries that previously also militated against their men's success, according to joint manager Niall Colton.
"There's an awful lot of good work being done in Tyrone clubs, especially at underage level," said the Dromore man.
"We always had the basis for a good county team, the skill levels were there, but clubs in Tyrone are so competitive that there were times when players just didn't want to play together," he revealed candidly.
"It all stemmed from men's football in the mid-'90s. There was massive club rivalry in Tyrone that would have filtered its way into the ladies' game.
"When myself and Colm (Donnelly, co-manager) came in last year we felt it was an issue that had to be addressed and it took us a fair few months to get them to gel together," he admitted.
They have not just successfully led Tyrone to their first senior final, but have them playing an all-action style reminiscent of the county'1s men, which Colton says is no accident.
"When Tyrone won the (men's) All-Ireland in 2003, it set a precedent in club football in Tyrone," he said. "Everyone looked at it and said 'how did Mickey Harte win an All-Ireland?'
"It was because they worked as a team, they defended in numbers and they attacked in numbers.
"All of that filtered into club football locally and, when the ladies came to look at how they could change things, it worked for us too.
"We always put out the best 15 footballers in the county, but that didn't always mean they were going to play well as a team," Colton stressed.
"People would look at us now and say 'X, Y and Z aren't good enough for senior inter-county football' but they're doing a job for us and it is the one we want them to do for the team."
After setting out to win a second Ulster title in-a-row, Tyrone were shocked to lose to Armagh this summer. That has forced them to take a lengthy back-door route which has resulted in eight games so far, but they took a massive scalp when knocking out champions Cork, who were chasing a sixth title in-a-row.
And Colton is not afraid to reveal the tactics that finally dethroned the all-conquering Rebelettes.
"Every score Cork got they scored from around a 20m range, you never saw them taking long-range points," he noted. "Even if they got a free at the '45' it was worked inside, it was all patient build-up, they had it worked down to a tee.
"We knew if we could stop them from scoring we had the firepower upfront ourselves to beat them, that was our game-plan and it worked."
Yet Tyrone then suffered another knockback when, despite building up a big lead, they needed a replay to get past Kerry's burgeoning young side in the semi-finals.
"We were three points up with minutes to go and should have killed the first game off," Colton conceded.
"The second day we went a goal up early, but losing Neamh Woods to a silly sin-bin completely upset us and even when she came back on, we still didn't adapt. The whole momentum was with Kerry, but thankfully we got back into it in the second-half.
"Dublin have a lot of players who were there in finals in 2003-04 and last year and that's going to stand to them," he noted. "But we're looking for our girls to throw caution to the wind, to leave any baggage they have behind them and just play and they've nothing to lose."