By Niall Gartland
TYRONE minor boss Gerard Donnelly was proud of how his players fought to the bitter end in his side’s devastating one point defeat to Meath in last Saturday’s All-Ireland final.
They paid the price for some poor shot selection in the closing stages, but they gave themselves a fighting chance of bringing the game to extra-time so a one-point defeat will take some time to come to terms with.
On the bright side, they claimed the Ulster title earlier in the campaign, and won many admirers for their brand of attacking football, but that wasn’t much solace in the immediate aftermath of their agonising defeat to the Royals at the weekend.
Donnelly said: “Obviously it doesn’t feel too positive now, boys are devastated in the changing room. But we did ask the question about whether these boys can battle – you can have flashy football and flashy players, and we’ve been racking up big scorelines – but we were three points down there and but for our misses we would’ve got something from the game.
“We did take over the fourth quarter, and it could’ve been a different story only for the misses, but we certainly didn’t lay down. These boys fought for 60 plus minutes. All we can ask for is that these boys give their all and they certainly did.”
The Red Hands blew their opposition to smithereens en route to the final, but Meath were almost equally impressive and proved too tough a nut to crack on the day. At the same time, Tyrone will bemoan some uncharacteristic unforced errors, mistakes which proved a major difference between the two teams on the day.
“I would imagine when we go back and watch the game, we’ll see that a lot of Meath scores came from us losing the ball, there were simple kick-passes and hand passes going astray and maybe that’s the Croke Park effect.
“But you have to remember that these are 17-year-old lads, that’s the thing about this new minor grade, they’re still boys, but for them to battle the way they did and have a chance to take something from the game, I’m so proud of them.”
Assistant manager Gary Hetherington echoed Donnelly’s sentiments, expressing his belief that a number of these minor players will go on to represent Tyrone at senior level in future years.
“There’s numerous players there that should make the step up to U20 and after that, they have to develop into seniors, and I’m more than confident that there’s quite a number in there that will do so.”
“Individually they’re all very good. We had to get them together to play as a team, and they bought in to that.”
Hetherington also said that Gerard Donnelly deserves credit for all his hard work behind the scenes. Donnelly was in his first year in charge and brought Tyrone to the brink of their first All-Ireland minor title since 2012.
“We have probably exceeded our expectations. Some may have said we were red hot favourites throughout the year, but when you have them for that short period of time, it’s difficult to get across what you want to get across.
“Gerard is second to none for doing research on teams, devising tactics. He may not be a household name, but he more than makes up for it with his hard work and the effort that he puts in, and off the training field as well.”
Hetherington, who was part of the Tyrone minor team which lost the All-Ireland final in 1997, also said it was a pity that they spurned a few late opportunities.
“We possibly missed enough opportunities to come out the right side of the result.
“We got our right people in the second half on the shots. Our scorers were taking the shots. They didn’t go over, but on previous days they have.
“It’s not as if we had corner backs shooting when they should have been shooting. Our main forwards were shooting and they were just going wide.
“You get those days, but unfortunately it was All-Ireland final day and it’s more than disappointing for it to happen then.
“They’re a great bunch of lads first and foremost, and secondly they’re excellent footballers.
“ Individually they’re all very good. We had to get them together to play as a team, and they bought in to that. They have been brilliant all year, and not many teams have got close to them. But fair play to Meath.”