All-Ireland Football Champions Tyrone are playing catch-up this year: Burns
Frank Burns has admitted that McKenna Cup defeats to Cavan and Armagh have made it clear that Tyrone are well short of where they need to be in terms of preparation for the National Football League.
With a Division One opener against neighbours Monaghan just 10 days away, the All-Ireland champions are playing catch-up as they bid to fast-track a pre-season programme which was interrupted by a squad holiday to Florida.
Having returned from Stateside just two days before their McKenna Cup clash with Cavan, they slumped to a heavy defeat at Kingspan Breffni Park.
And while a three points loss to Armagh at O'Neills Healy Park signalled significant improvement, performance levels were still below expectation.
“The moral of the story is that we still have a lot of work to do at this early stage of the season,” said Burns.
Monaghan v Tyrone ties are almost always closely fought affairs, and it was no different last year when they met in both League and Championship.
After finishing level at 0-14 each at Omagh in Division One North of the NFL, they met again in the Ulster final, with the Red Hands chiselling out a narrow 0-16 to 0-15 Croke Park win.
“Monaghan is as tough a game as you could get first day out. You know what Tyrone and Monaghan games are like, there is never much between the two sides any time we meet.
“Before that though we have a couple of weeks of hard work at training to be ready for that test.”
But Burns was heartened by the response to a dismal display against Cavan, with a strong Orchard side having to work hard for a three points win at Healy Park.
“After two games we are off to a shaky enough start with two losses but from the Tuesday night against Cavan it was definitely a better performance.”
Little has been seen in 2022 of the sort of front-foot football that carried the Red Hands to All-Ireland triumph last year, but Conn Kilpatrick's goal against Armagh provided a reminder of what the team is capable of.
“At times in the first half we were perhaps holding the ball up too much, we needed men to punch holes in their defence, and Conn did just that with the goal just before half-time.
“That gave us something to build on in the second half and we certainly played better. Armagh though caught us on the counter-attack a few times which was disappointing.”
Places in the Tyrone squad are up for grabs following the decision of four experienced players to opt out, and managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher will be making decisions over the next few days after handing opportunities to a number of newcomers in the McKenna Cup.
“The new boys that came in acquitted themselves well while the established names were better as well and I suppose it couldn't have been much worse than Tuesday,” said Burns.
“There are a lot of new boys all in there chomping at the bit and they are all good players and they are keeping last year's squad on their toes.
“It's a great way to be as nobody can afford to rest on their laurels as the new players are all looking their place in the squad and that is the way it should be.
“They have been pushing things on in training and you could see especially in the second half that they are all eager to make an impact at this level.”