JUST like that, the championship has not only crept up on us but it is well and truly in full swing. We are three games down in the Ulster Championship and it really sparked into life last Sunday in Omagh.
The previous games involving Armagh and Antrim and Derry and Fermanagh went relatively to script with the teams playing at a higher division winning each game with relative ease. Even with the gulf in class and ability, I have to say I was disappointed with what Fermanagh brought to the table on Saturday past.
I have to confess, I have not seen them much during the league campaign, more highlights, but some soundings suggested that they had changed the approach used during the league coming into the Derry game.
This was maybe the plan all along, that they would play a certain way then try to catch Derry on the hop, but no matter about tactics and style of play, the bare minimum any team can bring to the table is a certain level of aggression but to me Fermanagh did not bring this at all.
That is not to be too cliché about the thing and say it’s all about aggression, physicality, etc, but these are elements a team has under their control. Whatever about talent, you can match up to your opponent in these areas but Fermanagh simply didn’t do that.
When I am involved with teams, either playing or coaching, one simple message to give is that if we go out and at least match the drive, physicality or aggression shown by the other team, then in most cases you are giving yourself a basic chance and usually the team with the better footballers will win out if all other areas are matched. This should be a base level for any team looking to compete.
I just find it so strange that a team will put in a body of work over a period of six-plus months then go out and let another team completely dictate a game on their terms with limited interference. In some ways, it does not really tell us too much about Derry and we maybe didn’t learn anything that we did not know.
What we do know from Sunday past is that Monaghan will definitely bring what they always do to the game and that is a spirit and a resolve that is hard for teams to match. On top of that, Monaghan also bring an undeniable football quality that for some reason people tend to underestimate despite them dining at the top table for the last 10 years and winning two Ulster titles along with it.
I have said it many times over and over and I genuinely do think it is disrespectful to apply the narrative that Monaghan are punching above their weight. Looking at the squad and the depth of footballers and the quality they bring, their level is in the top six or seven teams and they consistently prove this.
Their tussle with Derry next Saturday will be a different level to what the Oakleaf County faced last week and I am really looking forward to seeing the respective match-ups.
This Tyrone team are at a sort of crossroads for their season and maybe even a lot of players’ careers.
Given the position they found themselves in at half time, I am sure without being complacent, they would have fully expected Monaghan to have come out and have a cut in the second half but would have fully expected to weather the storm.
The post-mortem will be well underway this week and on first viewing it might not be a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater as there was a lot of positive elements to take from the game. If Ryan O’Toole had of taken the point at the end when most expected him to then the game might have ended very differently.
All that being said, there just seems to be something missing in the Tyrone set-up at the minute. It’s hard for us as outsiders to put our finger on it and maybe I am off the mark completely, but that bit of cutting edge that Tyrone usually thrive on or that bit of ‘why me?’ attitude seems to be missing. After their All Ireland success of 2021, they seem to have stagnated a little with some of their core players struggling for form.
Management can then be loyal to these players with the thought that they will play their way into form but it’s not always as simple as that and the longer it goes on their confidence can drain. There is not easy solution to this and as said, had Ryan O’Toole not have scored that goal this conversation would have been completely different. Still though, would it have been papering over the cracks in the long run? Who knows!
Looking forward to this weekend, there are another two very intriguing games on offer.
On the face of it and also on paper, the two teams who played Division One football this year should be beating the two teams who played Division Three. However championship football throws up some unknowns and I’d say that’s what Mickey Graham has in his head for the weekend.
Cavan will not be easily turned over at Kingspan Breffni and alth ough Armagh will go into the game as favourites, don’t be surprised to see a Cavan victory on home soil.
The other game in Newry between Down and Donegal, I am not sure it will be as close as some suggest.
There is a school of thought that one team is on an upward curve while the other on a downward curve and they are close to meeting in the middle, but I am not sure the gap between them is a close as some suggest.
For my money, I am still going for a Donegal victory. You will note this is the only time in the column that I have actually made a prediction as I think it is clearer cut than suggested so I am willing to put myself out there on this.