Tyrone 3-17 Armagh 0-8: Mickey Harte understands that there are still plenty of non-believers out there.
That’s fine. He can live with it.
It’s nine years since Tyrone bagged the last of their All-Ireland titles and the bid to turn three to four has seen them slip out of the odd race early but, more often, fall out of the running just as August is poised to hand the baton over to September.
Cork, Kerry and Mayo have all had their number in All-Ireland semi-finals since 2008 and the chances of Tyrone breasting the tape and into a first decider in nine years isn’t aided by the fact that Dublin will be facing them next time. Doubters. Doubters everywhere.
Like the Dubs, Tyrone’s passage through the holiday months has made for a pleasant cruise.
Four games have delivered six goals, 77 points and little in the way of real work. The closest anyone has come to them was Down’s eight-point beating in the Ulster final.
Cue sneers that they’ve ‘beaten no-one’.
“There is always a reason that somebody or some team is not as good as they think they are,” said Harte. “I understand that. People have to find a reason to say that. That may be the case. We can only do what we can do in these four games in the championship.”
Hindsight has a tendency to devalue a victory’s currency. The value of this outing against a side that will be in Division 3 again next season tumbled within 15 minutes, by which time Tyrone led by 1-5 to no score.
Peter Harte was bombing through the Armagh ranks and popping in a penalty in that first quarter. Tiernan McCann was striding upfield at will, Colm Cavanagh standing imperious as the spare man at the back.
This was no feisty derby like those enjoyed and endured by these old rivals in the noughties. It was surgical precision, performed coldly and calculatingly by a side that has mastered countless such operations a long time ago.
And yet Harte couldn’t help but find fault with the procedure.
“We have to say we stumbled into that lead. We didn’t play with poise or real quality, we just picked off some good scores. The penalty was significant and getting that early goal meant there was that cushion there. It’s not to say we were happy with our first half performance.”
Harte’s own display was maybe the most intriguing of the day. He laughed about the fact that his is a team still labelled defensive.
He waxed lyrical over the music made by Colm Cavanagh and young substitute David Mulgrew - the latter pouncing for 2-1 in the second-half - but there was a discordant growl to his own voice.
There were, for example, no niceties for Armagh when asked if he was surprised by the margin of the win.
“They played their football in Division Three and we played our football in Division One, we would expect to be ahead of them.”
His nephew Peter spoke in softer terms but his analysis was equally sharp.
Sloppy was the word he opted for when describing aspects of this win and, whatever about his uncle’s assertion that the first 15 minutes wasn’t good enough, there was an undeniable dip in execution for the rest of the encounter.
Understandable, maybe, given the paucity of the challenge facing them.
Still, Tyrone’s ability to pile up the scores remains notable, particularly so given the fact that they persist with using just Mark Bradley as a recognisable forward, but the suspicion lingers that they may lack the depth of attacking class to break elite sides.
“We have been told that we haven’t got any stand-out forward,” said Peter Harte. “I don’t know how many people have scored for us again (on Saturday). A team that gets scores from across the field is a hard team to play against so hopefully we can keep that up and keep working hard.” No-one can doubt their determination to keep on keeping on.
Mayo’s trials and tribulations may stand apart but Tyrone’s refusal to slink back into the shadows from whence they came prior to the previous decade is just as admirable. Will this year be different to the last eight? Is the belief there?
“Agh, since I’ve been involved with Mickey Harte, all Mickey Harte teams believe they can win All-Irelands,” said Peter who has been soldiering on this crusade since 2010. “And I don’t think we are any different.”
The ultimate test of that awaits.
Scorers for Tyrone:
D Mulgrew (2-1); P Harte (1-2, 1-0 pen); S Cavanagh (0-4, 0-3 frees); M Bradley (0-3); N Morgan (0-2 frees); T McCann, C Cavanagh, D McClure, D McCurry and M Donnelly (all 0-1).
Scorers for Armagh:
R Grugan (0-3, 0-2 frees); M Shields, J Clarke, P Hughes and G McParland (0-1 each); N Grimley (0-1, free).
N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, P Hampsey, P Harte; C Cavanagh, D McClure; C McCann, N Sludden, K McGeary; M Bradley, S Cavanagh, M Donnelly.
D McCurry for McGeary and D Mulgrew for C McCann (both 44): R O’Neill Bradley and R Brennan for McCrory (both 51); R Donnelly for McClure (58); J McMahon for C Cavanagh (59).
B Hughes; J Morgan, C Vernon, P Hughes; B Donaghy, M Shields, A Forker; S Sheridan, N Grimley; R Grugan, C O’Hanlon, J McElroy; J Clarke, G McParland, S Campbell.
O O’Neill for O’Hanlon (30); A Duffy for Shields (33); E Rafferty for Campbell (46); B Crealey for McParland (52); C McKeever for Grimley (56); D McKenna for Sheridan (59).
D Gough (Meath).
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