McShane: All-Ireland final at Croke Park beyond our expectations
MICHAEL McShane has admitted that an All-Ireland final appearance at Croke Park is beyond his expectation from a first season as Tyrone hurling manager.
But that's exactly where he's heading for next weekend when the Red Hands face Mayo in the Nicky Rackard Cup final.
Underdogs in every game they have played in this year's competition, they will concede the favourites tag once again.
But Saturday's impressive victory over holders Donegal showed that there's something about this team moulded by Ballycastle man McShane that just can't be discounted.
“Maybe we've gone a wee bit further than we thought we were going to go, but I'm just delighted for these players,” he said.
“We asked for a lot throughout the year, we only got together on the 20th of April with them, and we said, look, we'll just go and give this everything.
“And for three months, they have worked their socks off, and it showed.”
A 2-24 to 1-21 win at Carrickmore secured a second Rackard Cup final appearance for Tyrone, and their manager felt they were well worth their six-point margin.
“I thought our fitness was really good, our hurling was good, but more importantly, we were so courageous and I'm just delighted that they're going to Croke Park to play there.
“I have said it all along, there's better players in Tyrone than most people think.
“There's some fabulous hurlers, as you could see out there. Some of the scores were top class, and if they were wearing a Limerick jersey or a Kilkenny jersey, there would be a lot of it through The Sunday Game, but this result probably won't even make The Sunday Game.
“We're only a third or fourth tier team, but it means the world to those lads, as you could see.”
McShane praised the maturity of his players, who refused to allow setbacks to deflect their focus or knock them off their game plan.
“What really impressed me was that when Donegal got their goal in the first half, our lads got back to what we had been working on all week, they stuck to the plan, didn't panic, we had talked about composure a lot, they were very composed out there.
“It was a real gutsy performance, some brilliant hurling in it as well.”
And after they were reduced to 14 men 10 minutes from the end, some heroic defending protected their lead and kept them on course for Croker.
“Our backs were to the wall with 14 men, and Chris Kearns and the lads got goal-line clearances, because they put their bodies in front of the ball, they put their head in where normally you wouldn't put a good stick.
“That's how much we wanted it, and we got it, and I'm delighted that we're going to Croke Park.
“We're building a team here. We played without Mickey Little, who has been one of our star performers, but the lads that came in did well.
“Conor McNally came in after ten days in isolation, he put in a shift for 45, 50 minutes for us, until he just hadn't enough breath in his body.
“That's all you ask of the players, and that's what they all give us, and that's why we're winners.”