Moane hopes Tyrone experience will be decisive
By Michael Devlin
Twelve months ago Tyrone Ladies were just an hour away from senior football as Tipperary stood in the way of them and an All-Ireland Intermediate title.
They came out on the wrong side of a three point defeat to the Premier County that day, but, one year on, Gerry Moane’s side are back in Croke Park to make amends.
“It’s always about gaining experience and getting to Croke Park, and the occasion last year played a part early on,” Moane told GAA.ie ahead of this Sunday’s Intermediate Final against Meath. “We settled into the game but ended up chasing it after Tipperary got the goal. We had opportunities at different stages for a goal and didn’t take them.
“They girls have grown in confidence and now I don’t think the occasion will affect them. It’s about performance on the day. We’ve a lot of young players, and we’re building a squad this last couple of years. I suppose it really happened last year, it culminated in an All-Ireland final, and unfortunately, we didn’t get the result that we’d wanted that day. We’ve built on that though and we’re in a good, healthy place at the minute.”
Names like Neamh Woods, Gemma Begley and Christiane Hunter have been ever-present in Tyrone ladies teams since the days when they were contesting for the 2010 senior title against current champions Dublin. They continue to play key roles in the current side, but Moane has also called on plenty of others throughout the campaign, using 29 players during this year's championship where they have come through their six games undefeated.
“The experienced players are playing well and they’re showing great leadership at the minute. There’s a good quality and good depth in the squad, and that’s the main thing.
“The round-robin allowed us to do that, and we availed of that opportunity and gave players game time, because that’s where they gain competitive experience. It’s great for the panel to be able to do that.”
Tyrone began their Championship season with one-sided wins over Fermanagh and Down to capture the Ulster Intermediate crown, before comfortably sweeping aside Offaly and Wicklow in the All-Ireland series. The quarter-final victory over Wexford, and furthermore the four point win against Sligo in the last four, proved to be much sterner tests however.
“Those were the first real tests, there’s no point denying. Even when we conceded two goals against Sligo, I never thought we were going to lose it for one moment. I knew we had the composure in the players on the field, and they showed great character against Sligo and when they did get the two goals in a short space of time, we never wavered. Once we got control of the game again, control of the ball, we knew we were always going to go on and win the game.”
Tyrone’s opponents on Sunday, Meath, had been a Senior Championship team up until just a few seasons ago, and despite playing their trade in Division Three, a league below than the Red Hands, they just missed out on promotion following a final defeat to Wexford.
“They’re a good side, I’ve seen them a couple of times this year. I didn’t see them play Fermanagh in Clones but saw them in the league semi-final against Down and we knew that day that we’d see them later in the year.
“They were very impressive against Roscommon in their semi-final. They have a good setup in the defence and they have exceptionally good forwards. They’re not dependent on one or two, they have a good spread of forwards that can hurt teams.”
Tyrone took the move to drop down to Intermediate level when the Championship was restructured in 2016, a year after Fermanagh native Moane took the reins, and the idea was to develop the youthful side through a period of transition following relegation from Division One. Getting back to senior football remains the “ultimate goal”.
“It was a matter of getting the top players in the county on board and getting them playing. That takes time to gel together, and it’s been progressing well since. It has to be ultimate goal for a county like Tyrone, to play senior football, and that’s what we’re building towards.
“On our day we are capable, but as the man says you have to walk before you can run, so it’s all about gaining the experience. The more times you play in the big matches and get to finals the more experience you’re going to gain, and when a team does that they will gradually build.”