Tyrone have it all to prove


Galway v Tyrone

Saturday, Pearse Stadium, 5.15pm

By Niall Gartland

ONE wonders whether the Tyrone camp will have appreciated Paul Flynn’s comments at the weekend on the Sunday Game.

Whatever about the Derry and Armaghs of this world, the gravelly voiced Dub opted to hype up the Red Hands as the team to beat from Ulster. His rationale? That they’d won the All-Ireland a couple of years back (fair enough, it’s a point worth considering) and their impressive first-half performance against Monaghan (right, but the Farney won and were duly horsed out of it by Derry).

So we’re not so sure the rest of the GAA world would agree with Flynn right now.

The Red Hands remain a dangerous proposition, but they’ve lost their three championship outings and as such, they have it all to prove heading into the new All-Ireland group stage series.

They’ve been handed a tough opener away to Connacht Champions Galway in Salthill, a seven-hour round-trip from Garvaghey.

Galway hasn’t exactly been a happy hunting ground for Tyrone in recent years. The last three times they made the trip, they came back up the road with nothing to show for their efforts, most recently succumbing to a 0-16 to 0-13 defeat back in February. The only point we’d add is a caveat is that all three of those games were in the tinbox of Tuam Stadium, home to a notoriously heavy pitch which seems ill-suited to the Red Hands.

But Galway would probably be favourites for this one regardless of where the game was played. Pádraic Joyce’s outfit are a formidable outfit and consistently so – they retained their Connacht title for the first time in 20 years with a skewering of Sligo a fortnight ago and have their sights on making amends for last year’s narrow defeat in the All-Ireland final to Kerry.

There’s an argument to be made that they’re a more-rounded bunch than last year’s class. Ciaran Whelan (another Dublin pundit…) argued prior to the Connacht final that Galway are overly reliant on Shane Walsh and Damien Comer for scores, but Matthew Tierney certainly put paid to that argument with a personal tally of 2-7, an individual record for a Connacht final. Indeed, his celebrated colleague Shane Walsh failed to make an impact and was taken off with 40 minutes on the clock.

Walsh had been under the weather in the lead up to the game – according to Joyce’s post-match musings anyway – but it’s fair to say he hasn’t threatened to hit the heights of last year. He’s one of those fellas who could go out and score 10 points on any given day though, so Tyrone will certainly be wary of him.

Regardless of whether Walsh gets back to top form, Galway have worked hard on their attacking plays and Sean Kelly, John Daly and Dylan McHugh have shown a willingness to venture forwards. They’ve boosted their panel as well and their substitutes yielded 0-15 over the course of this year’s league, so it all adds up to a tough task for the Tyrone management.

The Red Hands have been going fairly well, all being told – they finished the league with three victories on the trot and a one-point defeat to Monaghan isn’t exactly a source of shame, but the concern is that they seem to have dropped down a level or two since their unforgettable march to All-Ireland glory in 2021.

If you look at the team that lined out on All-Ireland final day against Mayo, only Conor McKenna has stepped away but classic Tyrone, they failed to mount a credible All-Ireland defence and the next few months will tell a story. The signs are good in one sense – some of the players who had a quiet 2022 have come back into form – but they didn’t manage the game well against Monaghan and there’s some concern about the relative lack of experience on the subs bench (though surely Ruairi Canavan and co will make a big impact with the county for years to come).

A credible performance against Galway will be important in order to put the Monaghan defeat to bed. Whatever happens, it’d be a major shock if they don’t make it out of the group stages one way or another as only one team will get eliminated from their group of four which also includes Armagh and perceived whipping boys Westmeath. From there, who knows – when Tyrone get a bit of momentum in the championship they’re notoriously hard to stop, but for the time being, the jury is indeed out.

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