GAA Football

Conor Meyler: Renewed rivalry will drive Tyrone and Derry on

Conor Meyler was Tyrone’s stand-out performer in Saturday night’s Dr McKenna Cup victory over Derry
Francis Mooney

THE renewed rivalry between Tyrone and Derry has generated a level of energy that will push both teams to the limits of their capabilities in 2016, according to Conor Meyler.

The Red Hand star has savoured his first taste of the sporting enmity that has spanned generations of opposing teams from these neighbouring counties.

The 21-year-old Omagh man was the driving force behind Tyrone’s comeback win in Saturday’s Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup final, their third victory over the Oak Leafers already this season, with League and Championship encounters still to come.

“We need Derry and Derry need us to push each other on,” said Meyler.

“We’re in Division Two of the National League this year, so we’re going to be playing Derry again. We need them to push us on, so that when we play the other teams, we know what the intensity is like.

“You can only learn so much from training, but you need matches and you need matches against really good teams, and Derry is a fantastic team.”

Meyler didn’t enter the action until half-time at the Athletic Grounds, but walked away with the man of the match award, such was the impact he made as Tyrone forced a gripping decider into extra-time, before closing out for a fifth successive title.

“Aye, I’m pleased, but at the end of the day, it was a team performance. I couldn’t have got into the positions that I did or made the runs that I did if it wasn’t for other boys in the team.

“It’s nice to be recognised, but at the end of the day, I would rather win the match with the team than win an individual award.”

A run of five games in the McKenna Cup has enabled Tyrone to build momentum ahead of the start of the National Football League.

And Meyler is certain the competitive quality of these ties will stand to them in next weekend’s Division Two opener against Cavan.

“At the end of the day, nothing beats playing football. There’s only so much training you can do, and at the end of the day you need games to progress, and you need really tough games.

“We got a couple of tough games through the McKenna Cup, and in time, it’s something that’s going to stand to us, and it’s going to stand to Derry.”

In the next few days, Mickey Harte will trim his squad, and some players will fail to make the cut.

Meyler’s place is assured, but he appreciates the dilemma facing the manager, who must make some difficult decisions.

“At the minute the squad is really tight, and I’m just happy to get a bit of game time, and try and prove another point to Mickey, just to try and make the panel, because at the minute, the competition for places is serious.

“Everyone is working really hard in training, and when boys get opportunities in games, they’re all playing really, really well. At the minute, I’m just happy to be a part of the panel, happy to get another game, and hopefully try and stay on the panel now for the National League, the same way everyone is.

“Every day you put on a Tyrone jersey, you’re honoured to be on the field, and I was just happy to be there.

If you get a chance to put on a Tyrone jersey, it’s a proud day, and it’s a proud tradition with Tyrone, and you have to avail of the opportunity.

“Growing up, you want to play for Tyrone, and any chance you get, you have to try and take it.”

It was the younger players who took on leading roles in Saturday’s epic McKenna Cup final.

Many of them displayed confidence and maturity, and sent out a clear message that they are ready to take on leading roles, ranger than wait for guidance from the likes of Sean Cavanagh.

Meyler said: “What the older players have done, it’s rubbing off. We couldn’t be where we are without those older boys, and they’re really good, they look after us, they spur us on, and obviously we look up to them boys as role models.”

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