Sunday 16 June 2019

Dick Clerkin: Harte will know Tyrone are as far away from All-Ireland as they were against Dublin last year


Mickey Harte congratulates Malachy O’Rourke. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Mickey Harte congratulates Malachy O’Rourke. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Before the final whistle blew yesterday, disgruntled Tyrone supporters streamed out the exit gates of Omagh's Healy Park damp and dejected. Their anger and frustration was palpable.

Mickey Harte, not for the first time in his tenure, will sense the sharpening of knives amongst a hardened section of Tyrone supporters, who feel his time at the helm has long since expired.

Mickey has been steadfast in the belief that he is building a team that can realistically win an All-Ireland. Even allowing for his unerring optimism towards Tyrone, he will know deep down that his current team are as far away from an All-Ireland as they were when they got steamrolled by Dublin last August.

Nothing on display yesterday pointed towards the contrary.

It shows how far Monaghan have come when a Championship victory over Tyrone in their own backyard, was met with such measured celebrations from the Farney terraces.

In 2014 when we defeated them in Clones for the first time in 26 years, at the same stage in the Ulster Championship, there was rapturous celebration.

Back then however, it was an overwhelming sense of relief following a decade of defeats at the hands of Cavanagh, Gormley, O'Neill and Co that fuelled the celebrations.

Such leaders are sorely missed from the current Tyrone team, as was all too apparent yesterday, and few of the current Monaghan team carry any of that same baggage we once laboured with.

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For two counties with such a fractious history, the game itself was strangely subdued for long parts, and largely lacking in any of the expected aggression or intensity. With both teams content on packing their defences and running the ball through the hands in attack, exchanges were often lateral with few passes ever finding the inside forward lines.

Monaghan were more content in such an environment, even if their main scoring options Conor McManus and Jack McCarron rarely threatened from open play.

Whilst similar in so many aspects of play, the difference between the teams was in large part found in Monaghan's number one.

In Rory Beggan, Monaghan have arguably the best goalkeeper in the country at present. Rory's unrivalled kicking from distance gives Monaghan a scoring outlet few other teams possess.

While Monaghan didn't always look fluid in attack yesterday, Beggan's four points staggered across the afternoon kept the scoreboard ticking over. Points that Tyrone could not counter.

Two years ago, at the end of the 2016 season, I told Vinnie Corey it would be my last. Vinnie assured me he would follow suit. Yesterday he rolled back with years with a commanding performance, in both subduing Tyrone talisman Mattie Donnelly and finding the net a crucial time in the first half.

His empty testament that night in Castleblaney remains one of the greatest lies ever told. When the game was there to be won it was the experience found in the likes of Vinnie, Darren Hughes and McManus that set Monaghan apart in the closing stages.

Buoyed by such a victory, it is time to end the patronising attitude this Monaghan team is subjected to. It doesn't matter a jot if Monaghan have a population of fifty or five hundred thousand, they need to be taken seriously as a potential All-Ireland contenders.

The condescending pats on the head of the lads from the small county need to the replaced with fair analysis, comparable to what Tyrone, Mayo et al are afforded.

It will also serve Malachy and this team better in the long run. For long parts yesterday they were much too lateral and one dimensional in attack.

Not for the first time, you could count on one hand the number of kicked passes directed into the full forward line. McManus finished the game like the All-Star we know but for the most part yesterday he cut a lonely figure inside.

In McManus, McCarron and Conor McCarthy Monaghan boast three of the best natural scoring forwards in the game. If O'Rourke and Monaghan have genuine All-Ireland ambitions, the manager needs these players to be a regular scoring threat.

The honest endeavour of Fintan Kelly, Karl O'Connell, Ryan McAnespie, among others, cannot be questioned, but when it comes to Croke Park, free scoring forwards win out every time.

Over the past few seasons, Tyrone had been touted as rivals to Dublin's supremacy.

After yesterday, Monaghan should rightly take their place in that discussion. It's a long road to the first Sunday of September, but it's a road this Monaghan team have every right to set out on.

Irish Independent

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