So many of those who served under ‘Banty’ finally earned their reward with an Ulster medal in 2013 and few have since walked into the sunset, their longevity symbolised by the presence here of Dick Clerkin in his 19th senior year.
Such experience should be parted with reluctantly.
Mickey Harte knows that. Harte was criticised for a number of years for failing to usher in a new wave of Tyrone players but Father Time won in the end – as is his wont – and only Sean Cavanagh and Colm Cavanagh of his 2008 All-Ireland champions started here.
Justin McMahon sat on the bench but, that trio aside, this is a new and in no way improved Tyrone team from the one that peaked in the noughties and the immediate future doesn’t look exactly bright on this evidence.
It may be that Monaghan are following a similar path in delaying the inevitable and squeezing the last drop of service out of men like Clerkin, Paul Finlay and Vinny Corey, but their core of knowledge and know-how proved key on this occasion.
Tyrone were 0-7 to 0-2 in front after 20 minutes played with the aid of a strong wind and yet they didn’t manage another score for another 39 minutes. By then Monaghan had reeled off nine points of their own.
That spell of dominance started when playing into the teeth of the elements and survived both the half-time change of ends and a 31-minute delay caused by the failure of the Healy Park floodlights just after the interval.
They simply never wavered.
Unfavourable elements and unforeseen curve balls were breasted with such ease that predictions of an immediate return back to Division Two seemed premature, even if harder tasks than Tyrone await.
“It was a strange situation (with the lights) but with the experience in the dressing-room we just wanted to keep the boys warm,” said O’Rourke who called Finlay, Vincent Corey and Conor McManus from the bench after the enforced delay.
“It was a mental thing more than anything else and we had started the second-half well. We were in the ascendant so it was just important to let lads know that it shouldn’t harm us in any way. It was just a new game starting, going out and doing the same again.”
For Monaghan, it is a result that glosses over a poor McKenna Cup campaign in which they lost twice in three outings. It also marked a first league win in Omagh since 1988 when they were still the undisputed big dogs in Ulster.
Tyrone had claimed their fourth McKenna Cup in succession earlier in the month – and their eighth in 13 years – but a more notable sign of the times came subsequently when Harte cut six players — including Joe McMahon, Kyle Coney and Mark Donnelly — from the panel.
The lack of leadership the likes of McMahon might have provided when the tide turned against them here was alarming. With Sean Cavanagh stationed at full-forward and isolated from so many of his colleagues, there seemed to be no-one available to muster the troops.
Again, the contrast with Monaghan was stark.
In Darren Hughes, the visitors had the game’s joystick. The midfielder’s ability to influence a contest in numerous ways – catches, hits, runs, scores – is similar to Cavanagh at his best and he was a worthy man of the match.
He had considerable support: in his brother Kieran who mirrored his worth in similar areas, in Dessie Mone who kicked two wonder points from half-back and in Stephen Gollogly who scored the game’s only goal.
It was Gollogly who ran on to a flick from Kieran Hughes and finished low under goalkeeper Niall Morgan whose own pointed free moments earlier had ended Tyrone’s near 40-minute scoring drought with eleven minutes still to play.
Tyrone’s miserable night was complete four minutes later when Colm Cavanagh walked to the line for a second bookable offence.
“We came into the league with a very positive mindset,” said O’Rourke. “We have seven games in it and we are looking forward to every one. We’re trying to keep an upward curve and be better every day we go out.
“There’s no doubt there will be setbacks along the way, it’s about keeping the middle line and enjoying the victory while making sure we don’t get too excited by it. We have a tough game again against Cork next week. That’s the way we will approach it.”
They’re not done yet.
Scorers for Tyrone: D McCurry (0-4, 0-3 frees); P Hughes (0-2); A McCrory, M Donnelly (both 0-1); S Cavanagh (0-1 free).
Scorers for Monaghan: S Gollogly (1-1); D Mone (0-2); K Hughes and P Finlay (both 0-2 frees); D McKenna (0-2, 1 free); D Hughes, D Malone, R McAnespie and C McManus (0-1 each).
TYRONE: N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; R McNabb, M Donnelly, B Tierney; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; PJ Lavery, R O’Neill, P Hughes; D McCurry, S Cavanagh, N McKenna.
Subs: S McGuigan for Lavery and C McCann for Hughes (both 42); T McCann for Donnelly (44); C McAliskey for McKenna (51).
MONAGHAN: R Beggan; F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie; D Mone, N McAdam, K Duffy; D Hughes, D Clerkin; K Hughes, S Gollogly, C Boyle; D Malone, D McKenna, R McAnespie.
Subs: P Finlay for Clerkin (51); C McManus for McKenna (59); V Corey for Kelly (61); E Duffy for K Hughes (68).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).
Mickey Harte couldn’t put his finger on why Tyrone squandered the momentum with the wind at their backs, but Malachy O’Rourke pointed to Monaghan’s abandonment of the sweeper and some personnel switches.
The cutting loose of half a dozen Tyrone panellists last week. It remains unclear if Joe McMahon’s departure is of the temporary or permanent variety. On this evidence, Tyrone could do with all the help they can muster.
The floodlight failure. The half-hour delay, caused by two blown bulbs which tripped the system, could have robbed Monaghan of their momentum but the visitors merely picked up where they left off.
Darren Hughes has all the physical and athletic attributes needed to be a top-class footballer and he used them all to some effect here, with the sort of turbo-charged midfield display that can carry a full team.
Malachy O’Rourke tinkered with his tactics and his personnel with Monaghan five points down and playing into the wind and was rewarded with the next nine points. Hard to argue with that.
Well done to Padraig Hughes who was quick but hardly overzealous with yellow cards, showing a black one for a blatant rugby tackle by Mattie Donnelly and sending Colm Cavanagh to the line with six minutes left for a second bookable offence.
Tyrone travel to Castlebar for a date with Mayo next weekend while Monaghan play host to Cork.