Tyrone set their sights on Donegal
By John Harrington
It was close but no cigar for the Tyrone footballers against Dublin in Saturday evening’s epic All-Ireland SFC Quarter-Final Phase 2 clash at Healy Park.
They came up just short in the end against the All-Ireland Champions, but the manner in which they battled right to the finish and closed a six-point gap down to just two in injury time meant there was plenty of honour in defeat.
The positives they can take from the match should stand them in good stead for the final winner takes all clash of the quarter-final group phase against Donegal in Ballybofey, but manager Mickey Harte knows the proof of that pudding will only be in the eating.
“We'll tell you in a couple of weeks’ time,” he said after the defeat to Dublin.
“If we go and perform well in Ballybofey and get a result there we'll say this was a great match for us in preparation for that.
“But that has to be done yet. So until we arrive in Ballybofey and come out of it with a result that's positive, then we won't be able to say much about that.
“It's a very difficult place to go and they have a huge record there. They haven't been beaten in so many years.
“But, you know what? I'm glad we have the chance to go because any other year we'd be waiting on the McKenna Cup now. At least we have another chance to play in an All-Ireland Quarter-Final which is essentially what all these games are.
“It's not often you get to play in three quarter-finals in the one season but we're getting that chance this time. If we can win this quarter-final it will put us in the semi-final and that would be a really great result.”
In a match of very fine margins, Dublin were that bit better than Tyrone in most facets of Saturday's high-octane quarter-final.
Their restarts were more effective, they held on to the ball more easily in general play, they were more clinical in attack, and they even tackled more tigerishly that an impressively resolute Tyrone defence.
And when a decisive blow needed to be landed, they found it with James McCarthy’s goal just after half-time.
And though his team rallied well in the closing minutes, Harte admitted that moral victories were of little value to him or his players.
“It could have been a much worse day in terms of the scoreboard,” he said.
“We battled well for a long period of the game but then a goal is always going to be a major score in that type of tight battle and they got it unfortunately and that put us on the back foot for a period of time and they looked in total control.
“But I think it's great credit to our boys that they dug in, they fought back, and they got to within a point. I suppose even a free at the end there would have made a difference. If we had scored that free it would have made it an even tighter battle at the end.
“Obviously we're not happy with the outcome of the result. We'll not be looking about moral victories of pushing them close. It wasn't about that, we intended to win this game. We felt we were capable of winning the game, and we didn't.
“So, when that happens you're hugely disappointed. The only saving grace is that it doesn't knock us out of the Championship altogether, we have another chance.
“It's not often you would lose a game at this time of the year, an All-Ireland Quarter-Final, and still have another chance. We have two weeks to prepare for another quarter-final, if you like, and if we win it we'll be in the semi-finals.”