Tyrone minor boss Donnelly rues missed chances but praise character of players
IN the end it was the pressure, the suffocating pressure of an All-Ireland final that broke the young Red Hands.
The composure that had characterised a stylish, confident run to the Tom Markham Cup final deserted them when they needed it most, in those decisive closing stages of an almost unbearably tight contest.
Tyrone bombarded the Meath goal in search of a winner, but shot after shot sailed wide of the target, and in the one late breakaway raid threat they mustered, the Royals grabbed a dramatic 64th minute winner through Shaun Leonard.
“There was chances there, we didn't take them. These lads have worked hard and at Garvaghey they're nailing those scores.That's probably what a wee bit of pressure does,” said manager Gerard Donnelly.
“Some of them might have been the wrong options, but some of them, the shots were there that nine times out of 10 they would score, but the execution just wasn't there.
“In fairness to Meath, they went up and got a great winner. It's a tough one to swallow.”
There was to one last opportunity for Conor Owens, whose finishing had been quite sensational throughout the series as he came off the bench to contrive a 1-12 haul over five games.
He won the free, and courageously took on the responsibility himself, but the kick tailed just wide.
“It's just tough that we had so many chances to win, and then we had the chance at the end that you cannot criticise anyone for it, because that's as tough a kick as a 17-year-old will ever have,” Donnelly said.
“Conor will bounce back, Conor has been super for us, and I have nothing but praise and respect for that man.
“I don't think there's too many footballers, senior men and all, that would have run in to take the ball off Conor to hit that free.
“So the bravery of him to hit it, and 99 times out of a hundred, that goes over the bar.
“He won the free, and got up and didn't want to hand the ball to anyone. He'll recover from this and he's going to be a name you're going to hear plenty of.”
It was a gripping, incident-packed minor final, but Donnelly summed it up succinctly.
“They made less mistakes than we did over the 60 minutes,” he said, perhaps alluding to his side's 10 second half wides.
“It's a tough one to swallow, but we'll just have to get on with it, that's life.”
The Stewartstown Harps clubman also pinpointed a dip in the first half, when Tyrone allowed the tempo to drop after a Cormac Devlin goal had helped them open up a four points lead.
“We got four up, and we started to give the ball away a bit after we got our goal, and then Meath got a goal.
“We were rattled a wee bit, we gave the ball away so much today, simple kick passes, simple fist passes, carrying the ball into tackles, which we had said not to do.
“All that is very frustrating, but that's just what it is – Meath have won the game and we have lost.”
Silence reflected the utter devastation felt by the players in the Tyrone dressing room afterwards, but their manager wants them to walk tall with pride.
“Boys are devastated in that changing room.
“But I'm so proud of what they've done all year for us.
“There's no-one can look there and criticise any of those lads for absolutely anything.
“We were three points down there and staring down the barrel, and we really took over in that fourth quarter.
“But for the misses it could have been a different story, but we didn't lie down, and those boys fought for 64, 65 minutes, and when you go out as a management team, that's all you can ask for, to give their all, and they certainly did.”