Ben McDonnell: There's more in us
SEEING all-conquering Dublin being dumped out of the All-Ireland Championship convinced the Tyrone players “this had to be our year”, according to Tyrone midfielder Ben McDonnell.
While the Red Hands were battling Covid chaos within the camp ahead of their ultimately delayed semi-final date with Kerry, Mayo put Dessie Farrell’s men to the sword after extra-time, breaking a Dublin hegemony that stretched back to 2015.
On their way to six All-Ireland titles in-a-row, they had defeated Tyrone at the semi-final stage in 2017 and in the following year’s decider. Even though they hadn’t hit top gear through their Leinster campaign, the Dubs were the ones with the experience and the know-how heading into the final four.
However, Tyrone went onto stun the Kingdom before being crowned All-Ireland champions for the first time since 2008 on Saturday - and McDonnell admits Dublin’s surprise exit spurred them on.
“We look back at 2018 and we were probably quite inexperienced. We learnt a lot from that,” said the Errigal Ciaran man, who produced a brilliant tackle on Stephen Coen to spoil a Mayo goal chance after being brought off the bench for the final quarter.
“Dublin’s dominance and seeing them going out of the competition… this had to be our year. We weren’t leaving anything behind, this had to be it.
“Going in as underdogs, we love that. We loved being put down and nobody believing in us against Kerry, to be honest. That really got us going.”
That siege mentality stuck to Tyrone through the business end of a remarkable Championship campaign in particular – but it was the 16-point drubbing against Kerry in Killarney at the start of June that prompted some serious soul-searching heading towards Ulster.
The Red Hands always believed, insists McDonnell, even if plenty of others didn’t.
“This is where you want to be. It’s emotional… emotions were running high outside there,” he said.
“We’re the only ones, the ones inside the camp, who believed in us at the start of the year. It’s just unbelievable… words can’t really describe it.
“In those first couple of League games, and then especially down in Killarney – we learned most from that. We came back, had to strip it down and really go back to basics.
“There were a couple of hard weeks training after that, a couple of lessons learned.”
The party will rumble on for a few weeks yet but, with Dublin having been brought right back among the chasing pack, the challenge for Tyrone now is to kick on again in 2022.
Even those great Tyrone sides of the Noughties didn’t manage to retain the Sam Maguire, and McDonnell believes the potential is there for the Red Hands to go on to greater heights in the years to come.
“There’s definitely more in this team - even there, I didn’t think we played particularly well.
“There’s more in us. This is the management’s first year in, we didn’t have much of a pre-season, we were in lockdown and didn’t get working on a whole lot, so there’s more to come. It sounds crazy saying it, but there’s so much more potential.
“The boys do everything for each other. People talk about Club Tyrone and all that, but there’s that club spirit on the county panel.”