Some of it was excessive, undoubtedly, and it was hardly on rugby tackles alone that they have reached this All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday.
So what have they been doing right? That is, right in the positive sense? Here we list 10 ways Tyrone have climbed to this level on merit:
Forget Sean Cavanagh, the most consistent Tyrone player in this championship has been Donnelly. A dose of flu may have affected him against Monaghan in the quarter-final but he should be back to his best for Sunday. After a quiet league campaign in which he started just three games, the Trillick man has been exceptional, his surging runs and unrelenting work around the fringes of the centre reaping dividends.
Considering Tyrone had invested so much into May 26 in Ballybofey, it was going to take some time before they recovered, after a third consecutive championship defeat in as many years to their neighbours. And yet as soon as they hit the road again, they were steamrolling Offaly. Mickey Harte made a guarantee after the defeat to Donegal his team would reach the quarter-finals. Even for a Division 1 team, it was a hefty prediction as they were clearly hurting.
Few teams start games with 15 fully fit men. There’s bound to be the odd niggle here and there with a cortisone injection thrown in for good measure. However, Tyrone’s run of five wins is even better against the backdrop of injuries they have had. Joe McMahon has been playing games with a serious hip issue, Stephen O’Neill hasn’t been fully right since returning for the Kildare game and as we explained, Matthew Donnelly had the flu the last day. And those were just three issues.
The obvious one. We maintain the former footballer of the year wasn’t exactly setting the world alight before Tyrone reached Croke Park. But since he hit the famous turf, he has been scintillating, turning in man-of-the- match displays against Meath and Monaghan. It’s often been thought that O’Neill becomes a different animal in Croke Park but the transformation of Cavanagh has been quite riveting.
After seasons of difficulty and some experimenting this season, Tyrone finally have a half-forward line that have the sort of dynamism and physical presence needed to compete with the best. The Donnellys have worked hard in the gym over the last couple of seasons to bulk up and complement their obvious football talent while Peter Harte, Joe McMahon and Sean Cavanagh have been allowed to move to more suitable positions.
Before he picked up a season-ending injury after the Donegal game, Niall Morgan was threatening to be the find of the season as much as he had a tough day out in Ballybofey. Pascal McConnell has come in and while he doesn’t bring with him Morgan’s long-range free-taking, he is solidness personified, a fine re-starter and three from five clean sheets this summer.
One of the few who could hold his head high after the defeat to Donegal, “The Block”, 33 in October, has been enjoying his new role at left-wing back. His abrasive style has been integral to Tyrone stopping attacks before they have gained too much momentum. Kevin McLoughlin won’t go through him on Sunday — he’ll have to go around him.
With every victory Tyrone have been moving further away from their forgettable evening in Killarney last July. Kerry may have taken plenty from it but there wasn’t much Tyrone were offering in a game where they looked a shadow of the team that had haunted the Kingdom in the 2000s.
Unlike previous years, Tyrone are sweeping again — McMahon doing a splendid job at it — and the players responding to a system that suits them. We remember against Roscommon and Dublin in 2011 how forwards made hay as Tyrone went man on man. Tyrone under Harte don’t do orthodox, never have, and never should have succumbed to the standard.
The durability of the Ballygawley man and ability to remain as relevant 10 years on from leading the county to their first All-Ireland title has ensured his stock remains high. His determination to stay in the position may have deprived some promising mentors the opportunity to take the reins but would any other manager have been able to bring Tyrone to an All-Ireland semi-final after Donegal bested them yet again? Unlikely. Harte, at 61, continues to be a manager the Tyrone players believe in.