GAA Football

Tyrone aiming to bridge major Minor title gap

Donegal's Dylan Dorrian and Conor Rorarty move in on Daniel Fullerton of Tyrone during the Ulster Minor Championship quarter-final match at Ballybofey on Saturday April 27 2019. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.
Francis Mooney

Six years without an Ulster final appearance is a long time for a county with Tyrone’s record at Minor Championship level.

Their 23 provincial titles have them way out in front on the roll of honour, with the nearest rivals on 14.

The lean years have seen a shift in the power base towards Derry and Monaghan.

The Red Hands have struggled to compete in recent seasons, and more significantly, to keep that famous conveyor belt rolling.

But they’re back in a decider, thanks to last weekend’s convincing win over Derry, denying the Oak Leafers a fifth success appearance in the final.

“We have a tradition of getting to Ulster finals, but when you look back through the last while, we haven’t been there in the last six or seven years with the Minors, and for a county like Tyrone, that isn’t good enough,” said manager Collie Holmes.

A 1-14 to 0-10 semi-final win at the Athletic Grounds set up a meeting with holders Monaghan in the decider, assuring both sides of a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

“We would always look to raise ourselves to Tyrone standards, and in fairness, that was a Tyrone performance.

“We defended tight, we were good in midfield, because we supported the man jumping, and inside we were sticky, the ball stuck and we kept it well.”

Luke Donnelly’s spectacular emergence was the story of the seven-point win over Derry.

He came into the team for his first Championship start, and produced an exceptional display of finishing with a goal and six points.

“Maybe the first three or four attacks we were a bit nervous, but we got into our groove and wee Luke Donnelly came out of the bushes and just took the show,” said Holmes.

“He came from nowhere, but he has been working away in the shadow of Mark Devlin and Daniel Fullerton, but he stepped up as his own man, and he took over from the standard the boys set the last day.

“But he’s been doing that sort of stuff in training, at St Pat’s Academy and for his club.

“It was just about him biting his lip and biding his time, he has worked very hard through club games, through practice games, and fair play to him, he took his chance with both hands.

“And knowing the lad really well, he’ll not get carried away, and he’ll come back looking better.”

A strongly fancied Derry team came up against a Tyrone side with all the tactical answers.

The main Oak Leaf threats were dealt with as the Red Hands battled their way to a title decider with a formidable Farney side, which eclipsed Donegal in the other semi-final.

“It was a big game for the coaching team and the management team, let’s be honest, because a semi-final last year was all-right but not good enough, and a semi-final this year would have been the same.

“So to get over the line and get to an Ulster League final and then an Ulster Championship final is great.

“Credit to the lads. We had boys to shut men down, and then boys to break and to finish, and everybody did their job well.

“We have been working really well, with a similar pattern to training this last two or three weeks.

“.That’s grand, but you have to turn up and do it.”

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