Allianz National Football League Division One: Monaghan v Tyrone (tomorrow, Clones, 1.45pm)
TYRONE are nothing without their snarl. There is no warrior clan in Ireland quite like them. It’s almost as if they want the world to hate them. It’s their oxygen.
Like the old Millwall chant: ‘No-one likes us – we don’t care’.
Time and time again, it’s in these circumstances they get the best out of themselves. Up until last Sunday’s ballsy win over defending All-Ireland champions Kerry, the GAA public were perilously close to lamenting their demise.
People were shaking their heads about the crazy number of players heading for the exit door just months after they’d clinched their fourth All-Ireland title.
No team should be losing that many players, least of all the All-Ireland champions.
Something wasn’t right. Last season’s fall from grace was quite spectacular – and they continued to tumble into 2023.
Pundits were talking in a sympathetic tone towards Tyrone.
Staring relegation from Division One in the face last week, they beat Kerry in Omagh and looked back to their snarling best.
Tyrone don’t want sympathy. They want things to be the way they were.
Some images linger with you too.
In the closing stages, Frank Burns thumps the ball as far away from his own goal as possible. Darragh Canavan catches it before Paul Murphy floors him. Still the ball sticks to the Errigal Ciaran man.
He rises with a torn jersey and roars defiantly.
And Mattie Donnelly’s reaction at the final whistle appeared that he was not only celebrating Tyrone’s three-point victory, but burying his injury nightmares of the past couple of seasons with an awesome display of skill and leadership.
Padraig Hampsey kept David Clifford to a single point from play. Paudie Clifford was given a stiff reminder of just how sticky Conor Meyler can be, as the Kerry playmaker was called ashore on 53 minutes while the game was still in the melting pot.
Donnelly and Frank Burns erected defensive road blocks and were back to their ball-carrying best and the clever deployment of Brian Kennedy and Conn Kilpatrick in attacking areas has added another dimension.
From a Tyrone perspective, there were important individual wins all over Healy Park and the hope is that last Sunday was the start of the team’s rehabilitation from a disastrous 12 months.
We’ll have a better idea of where Tyrone are at after tomorrow’s Ulster derby with a struggling Monaghan side.
But that’s the thing about Monaghan – just when you think they are there for the taking…
Even though they had a numerical advantage for the second half against Galway last week, Monaghan flattered to deceive and couldn’t hold last year’s All-Ireland finalists, with Sean Kelly, Robert Finnerty and Matthew Tierney running through them down in Pearse Stadium.
Given the deep transitional phase Monaghan are in, it’s no great surprise to see them fighting to hold onto their top flight status.
Although others could still be pulled into a relegation dog-fight, whoever loses in Clones tomorrow will be odds-on to drop down a division especially with one round of games to go.
Tomorrow’s outcome could also hinge on Jack McCarron’s fitness. The Monaghan attacker had to be pulled from the starting line-up minutes before the Galway game as he continues to battle with hamstring trouble.
Conor McManus is getting more minutes in his legs with each passing game and might play a half in Clones, while Michael Bannigan is really coming into his own on the inter-county stage.
Latton defender Thomas McPhillips has been one of the finds of the season for manager Vinny Corey and Darren Hughes, Kieran Duffy and Karl O’Connell continue to rage against the dying light with typical defiance.
Tyrone and Monaghan are stuttering in 2023 – but Tyrone’s stride looked more confident last weekend than it has been for quite some time.
And they’ll need to bring that same warrior spirit that they rediscovered against Kerry as the home side are quick to remind their guests that only three teams have left the old market town with a League win over a six-year period.