Tyrone can't afford to dwell on bad year insists McGeary as 2023 season dawns

Fermanagh's Luke Flanaghan and Tyrone's Kieran McGeary in action during the 2022 Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Preliminary Round between Fermanagh and Tyrone at Brewster Park. Tyrone take on Fermanagh in Wednesday night's Dr McKenna Cup opener at Healy Park with McGeary insisting they have put a disappointing 2022 behind them Picture: Philip Walsh
Francis Mooney

The Tyrone players won’t allow the pressure to get to them as they pick up the pieces from the wreckage of last season’s spectacular collapse, Kieran McGeary has insisted.

The road to redemption begins this evening at O’Neills Healy Park in a Dr McKenna Cup opener against Fermanagh, the Red Hands’ first opportunity to address the failed defence of their All-Ireland title in 2022.

“There’s no pressure on the players. The players are just looking forward to getting back out and getting playing,” said McGeary.

“That’s just Ulster football for you. You take the highs with the lows, to be quite honest.”

The 2021 Footballer of the Year wants to wipe the slate clean and start afresh with a renewed energy and a positive approach as Tyrone target Kerry’s prized possession, the Sam Maguire Cup.

“It was disappointing, but we’re putting that behind us. We can’t really afford to dwell on it any more.

“There may be people out there who are still dwelling on it, but things move on, and this is a new season for us, we’re back to square one.

“It could happen any team this year that is expected to do great things.

“No player or management set-up wants that to happen, but it will be the exact same in Ulster this year.”

Defeats to neighbours Derry and Armagh saw the reigning Ulster and All-Ireland champions surrender both titles meekly last summer, but McGeary reckons that the blossoming of the Oaks and the Orchard may have been hastened by their envy of the success of a fierce local rival.

“We had a very nice title attached to us last year, and maybe that gave other teams a bit of hunger, which it rightfully would.

“We didn’t perform, and nobody needs to tell any of the players that. We all witnessed it ourselves.

“It didn’t go the way that we had planned, obviously, and some years you get that.

“I have been part of the team for a while, and there have been years where it hasn’t gone to plan.

“People talk about Ulster football, and the competitiveness that’s in it, and we’ll be well aware of the task that we’ll be up against at any stage throughout the year.

“But we’re looking forward to it, and to the occasions that will follow.”

Last month’s return to training coincided with a busy festive season at McGeary’s Rusty Keg Bar and Restaurant in Pomeroy, but a year earlier, the New Year was spent on a celebratory team holiday in Florida.

Returning from the USA just days before the McKenna Cup, Tyrone proceeded to lose both group games, to Cavan and Armagh, and an early exit from the pre-season competition proved to be a harbinger of what was to follow.

This time, preparations have been built upon sounder foundations, with distractions kept to a mimimum.

“We’ll be hoping for a better start and then continue on and have a better footfall than we had last year.

“Every player trains hard, but what they want to do is they want to play matches. And the McKenna Cup is a great platform to get back out on the grass.

“It is winter football, it’s not played on sunny days, but it is something for players to look forward to, especially those who may be new in the set-up or others who want to cement their position or show what they’re capable of.”

An injection of fresh young talent from the All-Ireland winning U20 team has added an exciting dimension to the process, and the newcomers will get their opportunities in the days ahead as managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher assess their options.

“Brian and Feargal are really excited to see them in competitive football, and I’m sure they’re really excited to get going as well.

“There are a few of the players who have joined who need no introduction.

“They have come up through the ranks of underage, and with their clubs, and have been successful, so they’ll be looking forward to stepping into the senior category.

“They’ll be using the experience from the success that they have had to bring it through.”