Sunday 16 December 2018

Red Hand to prevail in war of attrition

Conor McManus
Conor McManus
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Tyrone supporters may have been cursing the darkness after last year's All-Ireland semi-final, but Mickey Harte was already lighting a candle.

His team hadn't just misfired against Dublin, they had completely seized up.

Beaten by 12 points, a margin that scarcely reflected Dublin's superiority, Harte reiterated his determination to continue and promised that Tyrone would be back as a major power.

"I've no intention of walking away," he said.

As for how Tyrone would go about recovering from such a serious setback, he insisted that the 2-17 to 0-11 result did not reflect overall reality.

"We have to believe the gap shouldn't be as wide as that. There is nothing impossible if you put your mind to it. I believe we are capable of coming back and reaching the level required," he said.

A year later, Tyrone are back in the semi-final against a Monaghan team that also had a painful day against Dublin last year.

Neither of their bad experiences against Gavin's men are relevant right now, since the sole focus for both is to qualify for the final.

In Monaghan's case, the challenge carries a historical dimension as they bid to become the first team from the county to reach the final for 88 years.

Few would have predicted that after they lost to Fermanagh in the Ulster semi-final having scored a mere 10 points.

"It's going to be hard to lift them. We hoped we had shielded the boys from all the talk that was going around (after the impressive win over Tyrone), but for whatever reason we just didn't get the performance we needed," said Malachy O'Rourke.

That's the last time he has had to mention that, as Monaghan have been a different side since then, led by the likes of Conor McManus (above), proving that the setback against Fermanagh was a one-off.

Granted, the qualifier draw was kind - they met three teams who were in Division 4 this year - but since then they have beaten Kildare and Galway and drawn with Kerry.

There was something about them against Kerry and Galway that suggested a different mindset, one that Harte will have noted. Tyrone have progressed impressively too, culminating in a compelling display against Donegal last Sunday.

This is where old experiences may become relevant as two Ulster teams turn an All-Ireland semi-final into a private affair.

Monaghan out-smarted Tyrone on the home stretch in the Ulster quarter-final, but this is likely to be different. Tyrone beat Monaghan, then Ulster champions, in the 2013 and 2015 quarter-finals, deploying their grinding powers to good effect in goalless encounters.

Neither were especially pretty, no more than tomorrow's clash is likely to be. Certainly, it will be a surprise if the strike rate (1-18 to 1-16) is as high as in their May Ulster clash.

When it comes to attritional battles, Tyrone win more than they lose, which will probably be the case again.

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