| 12.2°C Dublin

Tyrone need to shake the malaise that dogged their All-Ireland defence


Ciaráin Murtagh celebrates after scoring a goal for Roscommon against Tyrone. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Ciaráin Murtagh celebrates after scoring a goal for Roscommon against Tyrone. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Ciaráin Murtagh celebrates after scoring a goal for Roscommon against Tyrone. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

First round league losses, particularly for recent All-Ireland champions, can usually be shaken off without too much navel-gazing.

But in Roscommon on Sunday, Tyrone looked more like the side that mounted one of the meekest defences of Sam Maguire in recent times last season than the one which picked their way to the All-Ireland in 2021.

Last year’s campaign was over before it got going. A late return to training coupled with several defections didn’t help. They only secured top-flight status on the final day by dint of a win in Kerry against a side with nothing to play for. In Ulster, they beat Fermanagh but lost to Derry and when Armagh put them out of their misery, they had lost successive championship matches by an aggregate of 17 points.

On their return to league action last weekend, a reaction was expected. Instead, Tyrone offered what felt like more of the same. They played with none of the energy, bristle and style that saw them win their All-Ireland.

​Tyrone joint manager Feargal Logan had the look of a man with plenty to ponder. Around him, Brian Dooher and Cathal McShane wore dark expressions.

For the second game in a row they had seen their side fade badly down the home straight. In the McKenna Cup against Derry they were in a promising position, having pulled level in the second half while playing with the aid of a stiff breeze. From there, they were outscored by 3-4 to 0-1 in the final 20 minutes. Roscommon managed something similar. Early days, of course, but a concern nonetheless.

Everything was pointing to a Tyrone win midway through the second half against Roscommon. The wind, which darted towards the graveyard end, had seen the home side build a three-point lead at the break. The unanimous feeling was that it wasn’t enough – or even close to it.

Within three second-half minutes, Tyrone had wiped out that advantage. A Kieran McGeary goal helped them to a three-point lead before Darren McCurry slipped at the vital moment when through for another. It felt like Tyrone were sure to push on and win pulling up.

That they didn’t has as much to do with Roscommon’s guts and guile and the way Davy Burke played his hand. Roscommon managers don’t often leave Enda Smith in reserve, but he was excellent when introduced and had a hand in all three of their second-half goals to cap a deserved win. Indeed by the end, Roscommon looked to be seeing the game out with more than a modicum of comfort. They head to Salthill to face Galway this weekend with a spring in their step.

Tyrone didn’t have that sort of impact off the bench. Forward talent like Ronan O’Neill, Mark Bradley and Lee Brennan moved on in 2022. Conor McKenna joined them in the close season when opting to return to Australia.

And in Roscommon it felt as if last year’s hangover remained. They couldn’t blame experimentation for their defeat. Of the 20 players who saw action in the ’21 All-Ireland final, 12 were on duty here and some of them had their travails.

​McShane didn’t reappear after half-time. The usually dominant Paudie Hampsey had his hands full early on with the inexperienced but elusive Ben O’Carroll while Peter Harte, regularly the yardstick of efficiency, miscued a close-range free. They were the microcosm of their team’s struggles.

Tyrone only have a week – or only have to wait a week depending on your point of view – to put things right. Donegal, usually a team to raise Tyrone blood, come to Omagh. Whether the malaise from last year has persisted will be more clear by Sunday night.

“Everything is analysed as you know nowadays and there is always a post-mortem, win, lose or draw,” Logan said. “We’ve just got to stay loyal to the cause and keep going at it. That’s football. Everybody has lived the ups and the downs and this is one where we have to keep going again next week.”

And with league performance now feeding into championship, he acknowledged that it was a ‘critical’ game for his side.

“Critical. So listen, we just have to get at it and players get a chance next Sunday to redeem it and we have to hope we don’t get into a commanding positions again and let them slide.”

Most Watched