By Niall Gartland
LOSING to Monaghan really wasn’t the end of the world. Not only do Tyrone have another crack of the whip in the upcoming All-Ireland group stages, but Conor Meyler firmly believes that they were the architects of their own downfall against the Farney men.
The Tyrone players were afforded the option of taking a few days off to lick their wounds in the wake of their suckerpunch defeat to Monaghan in the middle of April. But they elected to head straight back to training, armed with the knowledge that yes, there’s work to be done but that aren’t exactly a million miles off the pace either.
Jot it all down as a learning experience, and Conor Meyler says they’re hoping to prove that they’ve taken the lessons on board when the really serious business begins in the last 16 of the All-Ireland race.
“The stand-out from the Monaghan game was our game management. We were convincing in the first-half and probably should’ve been ten points ahead at half-time in my opinion.
“We’d conceded some sloppy frees and missed a lot of chances and then in the second-half we mismanaged the game, and that was a theme in some of the games we lost in the league as well.
“We were a point up heading into the last minute against Monaghan but I feel we should have been much further ahead. Even at that stage, look how we managed the last play and the last kick-out. It was our poor game management as much as anything that allowed them to get so far up the pitch for Ryan O’Toole’s goal.”
Meyler continued: “But if you’re looking at the playing group at our disposal, I have total belief that we’re still as good if not better than most teams so it’s just a case of getting things right. We have had a couple of weeks to work on things and it’s probably a benefit from having this period ahead of the games starting up again.
“We were asked if we wanted to take a few days to ourselves or get back at it right away and the resounding answer was that we very much wanted to get straight back at it, straight back to the pitch and getting working on things straight away.”
Tyrone’s campaign has been placed on hold for a few weeks as a consequence of their early championship exit, but the question is whether they’ll actually benefit in the long run from avoiding a gruelling run through Ulster. Meyler sees both sides of the argument.
“That’s the thing, it’ll be interesting to see how the new format pans out, particularly in regards to next year.
“Is there still a benefit to going the whole way and winning the Ulster Championship? Potentially yes and I’d love another Ulster medal, without a doubt, but you look at the route Derry and Armagh will have had to take, going through three really tough battles and then having to reset again. That’s going to be a challenge but at the same time they’ll be battle-hardened, know their squad and know who they’ll be able to rely on.”
It’s fair to say the last 18 months or so haven’t been without its challenges. Tyrone ascended the ultimate peak in September 2021, claiming the All-Ireland title with a 2-14 to 0-15 victory over Mayo. Meyler was a crucial component of that success and duly earned a nomination for the Footballer of the Year award. The interim period hasn’t been quite so straightforward – last year was basically a bit of a wipe-out – but Meyler’s personal performance levels have remained high, and he explains what keeps him driving forward.
“For me I just love playing. I have admiration for players who can play at a high level consistently. They take the injuries and setbacks along the way, playing into their mid-thirties, that’s a tough road to go down and there’s a lot more to it than just winning Ulster and All-Ireland titles.
He added: “For me personally learning to let go of that has been good.
“Yes, I was tossing and turning the night after we lost Monaghan, wondering what I could’ve done better on a personal front but you realise that’s sport and that’s football and you have to take the highs and the lows.
“We’re fortunate in the sense we have games coming up and I remember a very smart coach telling me once that you become last week’s news very quickly, whether it’s good or bad. You learn to move on and I’d like to think this year we’ll get more chances with the format.”