Tyrone ace Rory Brennan ready to begin quest to close gap on all-conquering Dubs
THE process of finding ways to close the gap on dominant Dublin begins high in the Sperrins on Sunday, and Tyrone will explore the finest minutiae of detail in their pursuit of that elusive formula.
A Dr McKenna Cup opener against Derry in the mouth of Christmas may not seem like a fixture of any great significance, but, however small, it will serve a purpose, according to Rory Brennan.
The Red Hands failed to halt the Dubs in last September’s All-Ireland final as they marched to a fourth successive title, and the chief objective for 2019 is to crack the championship challenge that no other county has been able to meet since 2014, when Kerry last won Sam.
“That’s what it’s all about. They (Dublin) have set the bar and they’ve set the standard for everyone else, and it’s up to ourselves to go out and work on things that we need to improve on,” said Brennan.
“At the start, in the McKenna Cup, we want to hit the ground running, because that’s the best way to build momentum.
“Mickey (Harte) always says that, that the McKenna Cup has a big place in the hearts of Tyrone. We had a good run there for a few years, but we fell short in the final last year to Donegal, and it’s something we always look to go into with all guns blazing.”
As always, Tyrone will bring a sharp competitive edge to the McKenna Cup in another lively pre-season that will see both established stars and hopeful newcomers battle for long-term inclusion.
“You can’t rest on your merits. Just because we got there last year doesn’t mean we’ll do it automatically again the following year.
“We’ll have to dig deep and work harder, work on those aspects of the game that maybe we fell short on, and lift the bar.
“We have new faces coming into the scene now, it will keep boys on their toes, and nobody will be comfortable in their position, because everybody is striving for places and there’s plenty of competition.”
Brennan himself will be keen to build upon the strong finish he made to last season.
After overcoming a few niggling injuries which hampered his progress early on, the 24-year-old Trillick man’s influence grew as the championship progressed, and by the time the All-Ireland final came around, he was an automatic choice.
“For myself, last year got off to a slow start, with a few injuries, and I really only found form coming into the latter stages of the Super 8s, and was lucky enough to get a jersey on All-Ireland final day.
“I’ll be looking to push on this year and try to make more frequent appearances in the starting fifteen.
“With that momentum towards the end of last season, it’s just nice to get back out onto the training field now and push on and build on that.”
A vibrant under-age system and a high quality club championship scene within Tyrone ensures that a cohort of talented footballers is constantly available, and manager Harte has once again dipped into that pool as he seeks to add strength to his squad.
“The Tyrone Championship is the most competitive in Ulster, and it shows in the quality of players that are coming through the trials, that are putting their hand up throughout the season and staking a claim for a position in this Tyrone team,” said Brennan.
And Harte has also recalled some former players, with Kyle Coney and Conan Grugan returning after lengthy absences, and Darren McCurry resuming a career that he stalled prior to the start of the 2018 championship.
“Everybody knows the quality that the three lads have, and the experience they have had. They have taken a step back for a while, but they’re coming back now with something that they have added to their game, and they will be looking to push on and make their mark.”
On the issue of the new rules which will be trialled during the pre-season competitions, Brennan adopts a wait-and-see approach, but does admit he’s looking forward to the review which will take place before the start of the NFL.
“Some of the rules, you can see the possible advantages in improving systems of play. It will be interesting to see how it goes in the McKenna Cup and what way the new rules stand after the review.”