I was at a pre-Ulster final forum in the Canal Court in Newry on Thursday night last where I got dog’s abuse from plenty of Down supporters, having tipped both Armagh and Monaghan to overcome them in this year’s Ulster championship.
To their credit and to get to the final, Down got some serious momentum, certainly restored some pride and had all those buzzwords associated to them like ‘hunger’ and ‘passion’.
Regardless of that, Tyrone’s quality, I stressed, would be too much for them.
I didn’t fancy Down against Tyrone and, all in good spirit of course, welcomed any of the Down support to give me a call on Monday after the final in Clones.
When the dust settled, Mickey Harte’s team were more than comfortable winners on a 2-17 to 0-15
The match itself ended in a bit of a damp squib, although Clones provided a great occasion with 32,000 in attendance and great colour on display.
If there was a turning point of sorts it came right before half-time at a stage when
Tyrone had lost their way and Darragh O’Hanlon blazed a goal chance wide for Down after Jerome Johnston had slipped him the ball when it came down off the upright.
O’Hanlon certainly has had a decent championship to date and has certainly shown some form and had he managed to beat Niall Morgan, we might’ve been talking about a different game afterwards, although chances are it wouldn’t have made a huge difference to where the Anglo Celt Cup would be spending the winter months.
Tyrone have superior talent and strength in depth to Down and when you’ve that on your side, then the other facet you need to make sure is right is your mentality. Tyrone began in an intense fashion and were physical.
They weren’t impressive in how they finished the first half though and that will be something that Harte will have to look at as their involvement in the All-Ireland series now will see things intensify. You just cannot fall asleep like that when you’re playing the top teams. Mark Bradley was often inside on his own with the ball not sticking when it came forward and 14 Tyrone men behind the ball.
There was an instance in the first half when Mattie Donnelly broke free and instead of just playing in Peter Harte - who was in acres of space - went himself and spurned the chance. When you see things like that happen, it means, to me, that there’s a complacency and perhaps players are more concerned with the individual than the team.
Harte doesn’t strike me as someone who rants and raves and he made the most of Tyrone’s chance to regroup at the break. Tyrone were completely dominant in the second half and when you see the likes of Declan McClure, Ronan O’Neill and Lee Brennan coming off the bench, you can see the benefits of a strong panel.
It wasn’t perhaps the white-hot level of competition to fully judge the Tyrone substitutes that it might’ve been with the contest over. However, their introduction and impact has shown players on the fringe of the Tyrone team that Harte is not operating a closed shop and that can only benefit the panel as a whole.
O’Neill’s goal — Tyrone’s second — was from the top drawer and showed a level of skill that we don’t see enough of in Gaelic football. He showed a finisher’s instinct to just lift the ball over Michael Cunningham.
Padraig Hampsey had found himself in a similar position beforehand and was denied by a fine save from the Down goalkeeper. Hampsey is only 23 years-of-age but with the instincts and ability to read the game of a seasoned veteran.
I watched as Colm Cavanagh barked out orders. He needn’t have bothered with Hampsey though, who has that innate ability of knowing when to go and when to stay. He’s had an excellent championship and will enjoy a long career in the Tyrone jersey.
For all the talk about the Ulster championship and its level of competitiveness, Tyrone are easy winners having had eight points to spare over Down yesterday, after they disposed of Derry 0-22 to 0-11 and then eased past Donegal 1-21 to 1-12.
Down will find it hard to progress from here. In a way they’re victims of the draw as Round 4B will see Eamonn Burns’ side face one of the two teams who they’ve already beaten in Ulster — Armagh and Monaghan — who will be champing at the bit to get revenge.
Tyrone will be seen in some quarters as serious All-Ireland contenders. It looks even now that they’re on a collision course for Dublin in the semi-finals and will need to certainly improve by then, with the aforementioned three Ulster teams and Kildare on their side of the draw for the quarters.
For me, Tyrone are missing something and might even arrive at Croke Park undercooked after breezing through Ulster. I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe if a team puts them under serious pressure we’ll learn more about them.
I’ll have the phone turned on until then.