The harsh and punishing reality of life among Gaelic football’s elite stared Meath in the face as they made their return to Division One after a 14-year absence.
For half an hour they probed and prodded at Tyrone, going in front at one stage, but ultimately the experience, craft and conditioning of the Red Hands shone through as they cruised through the second half at Healy Park.
Darren McCurry hit 1-6, and while the loss of Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane has been somewhat offset by the return of Mark Bradley and Ronan O’Neill, Tyrone also face a test of their ability to thrive in the absence of such quality.
For Meath, much of the talk too was about absentees, notably frontman Mickey Newman, ruled out for the entire League following hip surgery.
“Mickey is gone. Shane (Walsh) is a couple of weeks away, Seamus Lavin is a little bit further away. Padraic Harnan is further away again. Donal Lenihan is probably a couple of weeks away but that is the nature of the game,” manager Andy McEntee reported ruefully afterwards.
Harte’s resources have greater depth, and it showed as he used the bench cleverly late on, with Bradley and Kyle Coney coming in to add an edge to the attack.
“When you look back and reflect on it, we did seem to take control at a critical time in the game,” said the Tyrone boss. “We injected a bit of pace into our team as well and the players who came in upfront, got the scores when we needed them. Sometimes things work that way. You bring in people and they make an impact straight away and there are days you bring in someone and it doesn’t be seen. That’s the gamble that you take.”
Cathal McShane was an interested spectator at the Omagh venue yesterday, not long back following a two-week trial with Adelaide Crows, his presence coming as news to Harte in the aftermath of his side’s five points round one success. But the manager still hasn’t given up hope of having the All-Star full forward back in his team this year.
“I didn’t know he was back from Australia. I had been talking to him before he went out there and knew he was going out for 10 to 15 days.
“I didn’t know he was back and he didn’t tell me he had landed back in our world yet. I am sure if he is there, I will be talking to him during the week.
“All we need to know is the final decision. Is he going to be there for us this year or is he going to be in Australia? And when he gives us that final decision we will know where we stand.”
McCurry gave Tyrone a massive boost, smashing his shot to the net from O’Neill’s delightful assist after 10 minutes, but that was after Cillian O’Sullivan and Ben Brennan had spurned goal chances at the other end. The Royals did get a three-pointer five minutes later, Bryan McMahon finding all the space he wanted to collect from Brennan and beat Niall Morgan with a low finish.
The impressive Liam Rafferty pushed Tyrone into a 1-5 to 1-4 interval lead, and with the light breeze in their backs in the second half, and a greater level of defensive solidity, the home side dominated.
Meath’s first score from play of the half came from Thomas O’Reilly with 10 minutes to play, and as they tired, the Red Hands were able to create openings with increased comfort, and scores from Bradley, McCurry, Kyle Coney and Niall Sludden secured opening day points.
Scorers for Tyrone: D McCurry (1-6, 0-3f), L Rafferty, M Bradley (all 0-2), R O’Neill, N Sludden, N Morgan (’45), K Coney (all 0-1).
Scorers for Meath: B McMahon (1-2, 0-2f), T O’Reilly (0-3), J Wallace, C O’Sullivan, B Menton, E Wallace (all 0-1).
TYRONE: N Morgan; HP McGeary, R McNamee, C Meyler; M Cassidy, R Brennan, T McCann; C Cavanagh, C Kilpatrick; L Rafferty, N Sludden, D McCurry; K McGeary, F Burns, R O’Neill.
Subs: M Bradley for Burns (46), B McDonnell for Kilpatrick (46), D Mulgrew for McCann (53), K Coney for O’Neill (57), N Kelly for McNamee (71)
MEATH: D Yorke; R Clarke, C McGill, D Toner; J McEntee, R Ryan, D Keogan; B Menton, B Conlon; B Brennan, B McMahon, E Wallace; C O’Sullivan, T O’Reilly, J Wallace.
Subs: B Dardis for Yorke (h-t), M Costello for Brennan (43), R Jones for Conlon (47), J O’Connor for J Wallace (58), S Tobin for E Wallace (63)
J McQuillan (Cavan).