It isn’t difficult to understand the reasons for the gathering chorus of approval. All-Ireland semi-finalists last year - they lost by four points to Kerry - Tyrone have traversed 13 games in this calendar year without a defeat.
This victory, their 11th in a run that also includes two draws, came courtesy of the kind of end-to-end, frisson-free game between two Ulster teams few people will expect to see repeated when the Anglo Celt Cup is at stake from next month.
“We believe we are good enough to be in the top company, of course we are, but you have to prove that,” said Harte. “We have done well so far. We have the Ulster Championship to deal with in the first place and, before we are thinking of anybody who might arrive at this scene, we have to go to Celtic Park and get a result, which will be no easy task. Derry, in their own home patch - we haven’t been successful in of late. They have nothing to lose because people believe they are not going as well as they anticipated they would be. They anticipated they would be in this league final and they didn’t make it. They lost a couple of games they weren’t expected to lose.”
They missed a jolly old romp of a game here. Twenty players contributed to the scoresheet, a dozen of them from Cavan. Only five of the 33 scores didn’t come from open play and it took 45 minutes for Down referee Ciarán Branagan to witness an incident which he deemed tobe worthy of a yellow card.
It took Ronan O’Neill’s 49th minute goal to pull Tyrone clear, but the only surprise was Harte’s men didn’t navigate other equally profitable paths towards the Cavan net. They must have excavated half-a-dozen opportunities in all, but squandered them all for various reasons.
Many a manager observed it far more worrying when teams fail to create goal chances than convert them and Harte has considerable reason to be happy with an attacking game that looks to have improved.
Time and again since 2008 Tyrone have looked like a good team held back by a blunt tip, but they finally appear to have amassed the armoury that can do sufficient damage judging by an attacking effort here that was orchestrated without the injured Darren McCurry. Conor McAliskey, who hit five points, was imperious in one corner and he dovetailed brilliantly at times with O’Neill in the other, while the evergreen Sean Cavanagh chipped in with a hat-trick of points. Add in the emergence of Lee Brennan, the wunderkind who got 13 minutes under his belt yesterday and of whom so much is expected after a stellar underage career, and Tyrone are amply stocked up front for the first time in close to a decade.
Cue Harte again with another dose of reality.
“Today is today and there is two teams out there playing after us that are playing at a higher division this year and playing for the biggest trophy of all in terms of Allianz league football. We have to recognise where we are at and both are very happy to be pushing on to Division One.” Still, even he didn’t deny this was an important staging post on this team’s journey. Players such as Brennan, Mark Bradley and Rory Brennan were winning something other than a McKenna Cup for the first time in their senior careers. And in Croke Park. It was instructive watching them do it. Cavan played a similar hand in flooding their defence, isolating one or two forwards and hoping to bridge the gap between them at pace, but they couldn’t do it as quickly or effectively as Tyrone.
Terry Hyland, the Cavan manager, hinted at that afterwards when he pointed out Tyrone have just been doing it longer than his team. That showed. Tyrone, like many a team, like to handpass the ball, but they do it at a speed that doesn’t allow the blanket defence to take full effect. All of which comes wrapped in the knowledge this was only a Division Two knockabout between sides for whom promotion rather than silverware was the focus all spring. Harte is right to be cautious, but Tyrone’s fans are entitled to their optimism.
G McKiernan (0-3, 1 free); D McVeety (0-2); R Galligan (0-1, 45); S Johnston (0-1, free); J McLoughlin, C Moynagh, T Corr, L Buchanan, M Reilly, D Givney, M Argue, E Keating (0-1 each).
R O’Neill (1-3, 0-1 free); C McAliskey (0-5); M Donnelly (0-2); S Cavanagh (0-3); R Brennan, T McCann, P Harte, (0-1) each; M Bradley (0-1 free).
R Galligan; J McLoughlin, K Clarke, P Faulkner; C Brady, C Moynagh, K Brady; T Corr, L Buchanan; D McVeety, G McKiernan, M Reilly; D Givney, M Argue, S Johnston.
N Murray for K Brady (25); E Keating for Johnston (46); C Mackey for Buchanan (47 BC); R Dunne for Argue (53); F Flanagan for C Brady (60); J Brady for Moynagh (66).
M O’Neill; C McCarron, J McMahon, R McNamee; R Brennan, A McCrory, T McCann; c Cavanagh, M Donnelly; N Sludden, M Bradley, P Harte; C McAliskey, S Cavanagh, R O’Neill.
C Meyler for Sludden (50); B Tierney for McMahon (51); R Donnelly for Bradley (56); L Brennan for O’Neill (57); K McGeary for McAliskey (62); F Burns for McCarron (71).
C Branagan (Down).