By Barry O’Donnell
SLOW starts in the league have blighted Tyrone in recent seasons, a pattern which joint-manager Brian Dooher is keen to rectify this weekend
The Red Hands begin what looks an arduous schedule of matches in Division One at home to Roscommon in O’Neill’s Healy Park this Sunday afternoon (throw-in 3.45pm), in a repeat of last year’s opener.
On that occasion it was the Rossies who prevailed at Dr Hyde Park 3-11 to 1-12, thanks to three second-half goals, one of several early NFL losses which pegged Tyrone on the backfoot from the get-go.
They recovered admirably midway through their campaign to stave off relegation fairly comfortably in the end-up, but Dooher knows they can’t keep playing with fire.
With an away fixture against Mickey Harte’s Derry looming on the horizon next week, Dooher appreciates the importance of making home advantage count this Sunday.
“Every team wants to get off to a winning start and we are no different but we haven’t enjoyed that this last few years. Our performances hadn’t been good enough and it just puts you on the back foot right away.
“All we can ask for is for the boys to go out on Sunday and give a good account of themselves and work as hard as they can and see what happens. It is important to get off to a good start, especially at home. You want to put your best foot forward but it’s going to be challenging, it’s going to be very tough.
“We are under no illusions as to the task facing us on Sunday against a very good Roscommon team. In last year’s league they were probably the first side in Division One to be safe so we are up against it.”
Tyrone blooded nine debutants in the course of their two narrow McKenna Cup losses to Donegal and Armagh at the outset of January. Dooher felt those games proved a useful exercise despite the team’s failure to advance out of the group stages.
“There were positives out of it although we would have liked to have had at least another game in it. It gave the opportunity for new players to come in and show what they can do at this level although it would have been nice to have had more experienced players to play alongside them but it is what it is.
“I would have been happy with the way that we played in the second half against Donegal and I suppose we could have held on but having said that we probably should have been further behind so it was probably a fair enough result.
“Against Armagh they got crucial scores either side of half-time to get them in front and we were always chasing the game after that. The competition did give the new players vital exposure to senior county football and that was the main thing. The lads that have come in have trained hard and have deserved their chance but they now have to realise that the league is another step up.”
With experienced trio Richard Donnelly, Niall Sludden and Ronan McNamee having stepped away from the county set-up and others like Mattie Donnelly and Kieran McGeary recovering from injuries, the Tyrone joint-manager stresses that they have little option but to introduce fresh blood into the fray.
“There is no doubt that some of the new players are going to be in at the deep end if you like but it is what it is. Ronan, Niall and Richie have all retired and they will be missed but that’s where we are and it’s up for others to step up now.”
While the Red Hands will be banking on a winning start this Sunday Dooher cautions that they will be taking nothing for granted against their seasoned Connacht opponents who fared well in the top flight in 2023.
“Roscommon beat us comfortably in the end away from home last year. I felt that we had been doing well for most of the game but then they just overran us in the closing stages with a few goals and deservedly won the game.
“They have developed well over this past 12 months. They are a good solid team who work hard for each other and play a good brand of football. They gave a lot of the big sides trouble last year and no doubt they will be a tough nut to crack this season again. They racked up a big score against Galway last weekend (2-25 to 0-13) to win the FBD League title and that will have done their confidence no harm as well.”
The Tyrone boss also expects the Rossies challenge to be boosted by the return of their St Brigid’s contingent who lost out narrowly to Glen in the All-Ireland Club final at Croke Park last Sunday.
“When you add in how well St.Brigid’s did too it further shows you that Roscommon football is in a good state at the moment.
“I would expect their St Brigid’s players to be at Healy Park on Sunday but to be honest we are more focused on our squad and what we have to do. We need to make sure that we are sorted and ready to go in the first game, that is our main priority.”