Going into the second half water-break at Croke Park on Saturday during the Ulster final, Monaghan had all the momentum. From then on though, Tyrone settled, took care of the ball better and made not perfect, but better decisions.
Peter Harte’s point was the epitome of that in a smashing game of football. He could’ve gone with the left from the Hogan Stand side; instead he showed composure to come inside on his right to reduce the risk factor. Darren McCurry’s marked point by the Cusack, which had a whisk of a push beforehand, was vitally important too. Small margins.
In the first half, Tyrone looked so dominant, with Monaghan leaving their energy, so prevalent in their semi-final win over Armagh, on the team bus. They had as many chances as Tyrone did and failed to make use of them, snatching at shots and making the wrong choices. When they peel back their harrowing loss, it was the first half and not the second that ultimately saw them miss out.
This Tyrone team is more Tyrone than the team of O’Neill, Gormley, and McGuigan. They will hammer the hammer when they need to, making life difficult for anyone who comes across their path.
Tyrone had their issues with Covid, with Feargal Logan at home and no sign of Frank Burns for whatever reason, but they’re still evolving, showed their versatility and got there in the end. There were only inches in it by the conclusion. Tyrone managed to shade it because of that first-half foundation.
In Conor Meyler and Kieran McGeary they have two players that were essential to their narrow victory. They occupied Karl O’Connell and Ryan McAnespie, while Darren Hughes didn’t have the impact Monaghan needed. Meyler and McGeary are Tyrone’s two most important players, followed by McCurry.
In Ronan McNamee, Padraig Hampsey, and Michael McKernan they have proper defenders — they man-mark and have that little bit of divilment in them.
With both teams mirroring one another, Monaghan had to look to their full-back line, to Conor Boyle and Kieran Duffy, for their late scores. Monaghan could feel aggrieved with the premature conclusion. Seamus McEnaney didn’t make much of a fuss of it afterwards and Tyrone were running down the clock comfortably in possession but it’s not something that should’ve happened with big screens and sideline officials.
You have to feel for Monaghan, a few tiny little things didn’t go their way and they add up over the course of 70-plus minutes. Tyrone are more a set-piece, set-up type of team and they were more uncomfortable when the match went helter-skelter in the third quarter.
Monaghan weren’t always like that, it’s a bit like Mayo down the years — the more manic the game becomes, the more you feel it suits them. Tyrone did well to slow it and grapple the terms of the match back in their favour afterwards.
There was great innovation from both teams, particularly from the respective goalkeepers, Tyrone’s Niall Morgan and Rory Beggan of Monaghan. They were pushing up to mark space for the others’ kick out and they’re the type of fellas that aren’t afraid to try things. They’re brilliant to watch.
Teams are trying things and that’s refreshing. There’s so little between so many teams that a little bit of something extra can provide the difference. The goalkeeper is dormant for certain players so why not move up into the space?
Saturday, and indeed Friday’s U20 final between Monaghan and Down in Armagh, showed the rethinking and reshaping of the position. Ulster football had a safety first tag for so long. Now it’s unjustifiable. You can see a lot of the innovative thinkers in the game come from up north.
Ulster football will always have its critics and like the other three provinces, this year it had its mismatches and you can’t just sweep that under the carpet. Since the Donegal against Derry game, though, if you add in the two semi-finals and Saturday’s final, it’s probably had the four best matches of the championship to date.
It ended with Tyrone’s hex over Monaghan at Croke Park continuing, wins in 2013, 2015, 2018 and now this year at HQ. Monaghan have had a gruelling couple of weeks since the passing of Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh and in four days lost in the U17s to Donegal, the U20 final against Down in extra-time and then Saturday.
They are resilient people and I don’t mean that in any way to sound patronising. All their teams have given it their all and left it out on the pitch and their support will have pride in that. Things have happened quick and fast so now they should take a bit of time to themselves to grieve, process what has happened and that resilience will continue to shine through.
Now, we’re left with the four best teams in the country, in Dublin, Mayo, Kerry, and Tyrone, with Monaghan a close fifth. Tyrone will find the going tougher against Kerry, a much more traditional footballing team. They struggled badly and shipped six goals in the Division 1 semi-final but have answered the questions asked of them since.
That might not be enough for the new management team of Logan and Brian Dooher, although they certainly have a chance against Kerry. Cork showed, albeit briefly in the Munster final, that although Kerry have some fantastic footballers, you can get at this team. Tyrone will look to hone in on that when the time comes at the All-Ireland semi-final later this month.
Because of what happened in Killarney in June, Kerry will be favourites and rightly so.
Tyrone will feel they’ve a chance and, for me, they’ve every reason to.