GAA Football

Tyrone looking forward to Ulster derbies with Monaghan and Donegal

Conall McCann of Tyrone is looking forward to their all-Ulster battles in Division One against Monaghan and Donegal.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin

THE next game is always the focus for Tyrone – but the one after that is in their sights too.

The Red Hands begin a mini Ulster championship now against the two other teams who have won the northern provincial title over the past nine years, Monaghan and Donegal.

First up is a trip to take on Malachy O’Rourke’s men this Saturday night, but Tyrone also have half an eye on a revenge mission when Donegal come to Omagh after taking the McKenna Cup, ending their rivals’ six-year hold on the trophy.

“The next time it will be different,” insisted Killyclogher clubman Conall McCann.

The Tyrone midfielder/ half-forward is anticipating a tough test in Castleblayney against their opponents in this year’s Ulster SFC quarter-final: “Definitely. I have never played in Castleblayney before and it will be something new for all the players.

“Any time you play Monaghan it is always difficult, especially when we have them later in the year in the first round of the Championship and there are a couple of interesting side-plots to that game.

“It's about getting another two points on the board as we are not sitting in a good place in the League at the moment. Our focus is on that game next week, starting [tonight] again.”

However, having said that, he agreed that Tyrone would be more motivated to beat Donegal after losing to them in the McKenna Cup Final:

“Naturally it always does, you want to try to put that team back. Thankfully we have got them in Omagh again in two weeks’ time and I am sure we will learn from this game.

“We will know what worked well first day, in the future and trust the process. Hopefully in two weeks’ time we can rectify this defeat.”

McCann felt there was an element of `holding back’ from both sides last Saturday night, with Tyrone making 13 changes from their last League outing and Donegal only going with six of the same starters from their trip to Dublin:

“You could say that for both teams. They had a lot of players in reserve from the Dublin game. Likewise for us, we had 13 changes so you could probably say that there was a little bit held behind, but I think both teams there wanted to go and win it.

“Everyone on the pitch wanted to win, but the next time it will be different.”

One player who can’t look forward to those next two matches, probably not even the next two months, is McCann’s older brother Tiernan, who fractured a knee-cap in the hard-fought League win down in Kildare.

Conall revealed that his sibling is struggling with the limitations enforced by his recuperation, which has forced him to return to Killyclogher from Dublin, where he lives and works:

“Ah well, he is a bit down about it because I suppose because he is just sitting in the house. He can't walk. He can't really straighten his leg, he can't work.

“He doesn't live at home, he lives down in Dublin so living at home, with my oul pair and brothers and sisters annoying him the whole time, probably wouldn't help him.

“Plus, his girlfriend lives in Dublin so it's probably been a tough week for him because he is not used to being at home.”

The recovery process is a testing mix of immobility and treatment, explains Conall: “It's like a brace, sort of thing. But he has to ice it every 30 minutes, all day. So he is sitting at home all day watching TV and the four walls. He can't walk, can't go out anywhere.

“Plus it's like that for a month. He wouldn't be used to that because he is always working. He has to put up with the rest of the family I suppose.”

Tiernan McCann’s difficulty is someone else’s opportunity, though: “Some boys might not be happy with game-time at the minute, but it is a long season, and boys get injured.

“The likes of Tiernan getting injured gives other boys a chance on the 15 and another player a chance on the 26.

“The competition for places is really tough, especially with Jordanstown being finished [in the Sigerson Cup] and Moy being finished [in the All-Ireland Club IFC].

“There are a lot of faces, a panel of 34 or 35, and it is going to be difficult for Mickey [Harte] to pick the 26, never mind the 15.”

McCann felt the McKenna Cup final was important for Tyrone’s fringe players, but also pointed out that there’s still time to impress the boss:

“This was a big marker for boys to show what they are made of, but I can remember for me last year I didn't really play much league football and then I got playing the Championship. It shows you too that it's all about progression throughout the year.”

McCann felt that the number of changes on the Tyrone team, as manager Harte rotated his resources in the middle of a tough Division One programme, may have contributed to some lack of cohesion among the Red Hands:

“It was difficult because most of the boys that were playing there were mainly boys that haven't played much league football and they were getting a chance.

“A lot of boys were trying to prove themselves and that might put a lot of pressure on them to try to stand out for Mickey or whatever.

“But it is a difficult situation. People think the McKenna Cup means nothing to boys, but I know for boys on the periphery that's the games they have played this year and they want to show what they are made of.”

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