Andy Watters: What is going on with Tyrone? Red Hand struggles continue with no ground gained

Will our children ever experience a summer day on the Clones Hill? An Ulster birthright is under threat

Colm Basquel scores Dublin's first of five goals against Tyrone
Dublin v Tyrone - Allianz Football League Division 1 Colm Basquel scores Dublin's first of five goals, in the 13th minute, despite the attention of Kieran McGeary of Tyrone during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Shauna Clinton/Sportsfile (Shauna Clinton / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

WHAT is going on with Tyrone? It’s probably easier to get your head around Foireann than answer that question. There was nothing riding on last Sunday’s final League game against Dublin but still, getting beaten by 21 points? That’s not acceptable. Not for the Red Hands.

It’s Dublin in Croke Park… Whatever the circumstances, you’ve got to show up for that one, surely. The Reds Hands fielded a team of rookies with only four players who’d been involved in the 2021 Sam Maguire-winning side and they got a hiding. The final whistle couldn’t have come soon enough.

It’s hard to see what a humiliation like that in such a high profile game can do for the confidence of any of the promising youngsters Tyrone are trying to bring through. They can roll out platitudes about “seeing the level we have to get to” until they’re blue in the face but it’ll be hard to take positives out of a 5-18 to 0-12 defeat.

That Napoleon Bonaparte quote about ‘lucky generals’ springs to mind when you consider Tyrone’s worrying loss of form and momentum since their brilliant Sam Maguire win in 2021.

Did they use up all their luck that season?

Despite Sunday’s loss to the Dubs, Tyrone were safe enough in the table and their form in the National League hasn’t been anything to shout about for years. Mid-table finishes are the norm, 7-8 points on the board, some good results and some forgettable ones.

The last League final was 2013 (a loss to Dublin) and before that two in-a-row in 2002 and 2003 and back-to-back titles against Cavan and Laois.

So this year hasn’t been that much different from the previous 10 as the Red Hands again did enough to stay afloat. But at the same time they give you an uneasy feeling because lessons don’t seem to have been learned – it was boom-and-bust as every win was followed by a disappointing loss.

Beating Roscommon in their opener, then well beaten by Derry in round two; finding a bit of form against Mayo at home but then losing to Kerry; seeing off Monaghan in perhaps the game of the season so far and then humiliation last weekend.

There were mitigating factors for the loss in Croke Park – injuries to several experienced players and the absence of joint-manager Feargal Logan who, happily, may be back on the sideline alongside Brian Dooher before too long.

Excuses/reasons, call them what you will but the fact remains that Tyrone aren’t in any real form. They’re still waiting on something to click and it’s doubtful they can find it before the Ulster Championship begins, although they have three weeks’ (longer than most) to do so.

Darragh Canavan celebrates his brilliant goal against Monaghan at Healy Park. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Darragh Canavan celebrates his brilliant goal against Monaghan at Healy Park. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

Any team with the attacking talent Tyrone possess is going to have a purple patch or two in a game. Darragh Canavan and Darren McCurry are capable of posting winning totals if they see enough ball but Tyrone are conceding just as fast at the other end. The game against Monaghan was a brilliant spectacle and literally every time the Farneymen got the ball in their hands it looked like they would score. They cut the Tyrone defence to ribbons over and over again and the Red Hand brains trust was unable to get a handle on it.

But they won and afterwards there was optimism and a feeling of ‘we can build on this’ and then there was last Sunday against the Dubs who, let’s not forget, also included several unfamiliar names in their line-up. Twenty-three scores for the Boys in Blue over 70 very uncomfortable minutes for the Tyrone faithful lost all the ground gained against Monaghan.

You wouldn’t say this Tyrone side lacks talent and you wouldn’t say they lack for effort, the management have been there and done it - but there is an absence of cohesion and an on-field presence about them.

A difficult Championship awaits. The last two Championship campaigns have produced just three victories – against Fermanagh in Ulster in 2022 and last year there was a scrappy two-point win over Armagh in Ulster and another in the All-Ireland preliminary round against an out-of-sorts Donegal.

In between there have been 11-point hidings from two of the top three Sam Maguire contenders – Derry (2022) and Kerry (2023) and last Sunday Dublin (the other contender) weighed in. So where does that leave the Red Hands?

After Sunday’s defeat Brian Dooher said: “We need to take a good look at ourselves, both players and managers”.

They do, and quickly if they’re to avoid another mundane year going nowhere in particular.

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Monaghan ahead of the Ulster SFC Final at Clones in 2013.<br /> Picture Colm O'Reilly
A packed Hill on a summer Sunday. Will we ever see the like again?

WILL our children ever experience a summer day on the Clones hill? An Ulster GAA birthright is under threat if the current fixture calendar is allowed to continue.

It’s snowing – actually snowing – as I write this. Pitches are closed throughout the country and it’s almost impossible to get a challenge match played as the start of the club leagues approaches.

It’s hard to accept in all this rain, cold, and darkness that the Ulster Championship – one of the jewels in the GAA crown - starts on Sunday-week.

The GAA season needs room to breathe because it is being suffocated by insane fixture scheduling and somebody has to call a halt to this madness before irreparable damage is done.

Monaghan versus Cavan at Clones, an age-old rivalry at the traditional home of Ulster football is being played on April 7 and – by the looks of things - it’ll be played on a heavy pitch with whatever loyal fans who are there huddled together, foundered in the stand.

The split season is an understandable concept, the club game deserves its place but supporters have been forgotten in all this haste to get the provincial championships out of the way.

There is no time for the proper build-up we used to enjoy; the anticipation as the big game approached. There is no time for fans to chat about the last game because the next one comes along so quickly. It is tough on the punters’ pockets and gate receipts are bound to suffer as TV schedules become packed with more and more games.

We’ve tried this system and I hope this is the last year of it.