By Barry O’Donnell
WHETHER its bouquets or brickbats, the Tyrone senior players and management have experienced vastly contrasting receptions at the conclusion of the past two seasons.
From the highs of Croke Park on September 11th, 2021 (victory vs Mayo in AIF) to the lows of the Athletic Grounds on June 5th, 2022 (Armagh loss in the first round of the Qualifiers), rarely has a descent been more dramatic.
Know-all revisionists have had a field day insisting that ‘the team weren’t very good to begin with and spouting off about a ‘fluke’ triumph in the Covid impacted season preceding.
As joint manager Brian Dooher succinctly puts it: “As they say a slap on the back is never far from a kick in the arse.”
Just over 12 months ago, Tyrone were being lauded after the county so memorably landed its fourth Sam Maguire crown, but the footballing landscape has shifted considerably during the intervening period and after an all too abrupt end to their challenge to defend their Ulster and All-Ireland titles, many questions surround the Red Hands at the outset of another campaign.
The team were due to round off their Dr McKenna Cup group stage away to Derry last night (Wednesday) in Owenbeg, opposition who were responsible for one of Tyrone’s most depressing outings of 2022 when their fierce rivals from across the Sperrins won the Ulster Championship opener in convincing fashion at Healy Park.
Attention will soon turn to the league and it took Tyrone five matches to get off the mark last year (late February narrow success against Kildare in the league). Dooher hopes that they will become acquainted with the winners enclosure on a more regular basis in the coming weeks and months
“It’s not to say there wasn’t that intention last year. It just didn’t happen. We go out every day to give our best. Last year it didn’t happen for one reason or another. Hopefully we can take the learning from it. We want to win every game we play. Some days it goes for you, some days it doesn’t. It’s not going to be for lack of effort.
“We had a very poor start and were lucky enough to cling onto our Division One status, We don’t want to put ourselves in that same position again. But we have a lot of work to do.
“As I said, club football ran on into the middle of October so they have had to get a bit of rest and recharge the batteries, but now it’s time to go again. Hopefully we will develop and grow and get better every day we go out, that is all we want to do.”
Tyrone went six months without a competitive game by the time they took to the field against Fermanagh last week.
Dooher admits that the prolonged period of inactivity underlined how poor last season had been, and he was looking forward to the upcoming NFL Division One programme which begins with a trip to Roscommon at the back-end of January.
“That gap reflects how disappointing last year was. We’re used to playing later into the summer so that is not where we want to be. We just have to learn from it and do our best to ensure we are not in that same position again. We will just take it one game at a time and see where we go.
“The league is coming up and you want to be at the top table competing against the best. That is where you push yourself and develop as a player and as a team. Thankfully we are still there but we need to give a better account of ourselves this year than we did last year.”