Little time for Tyrone to rest on their laurels as fresh campaign beckons

Old rivals Monaghan will be keen to test the mettle of new All-Ireland champions

It seems nearly quaint now, after all that has happened, after the lifetime that has passed in the seven months since, to point out that the last time Tyrone played a league match, Kerry put six goals past them.

Point it out to Feargal Logan and he is almost taken aback at the realisation. Not that he had forgotten it or anything. Just that it seems nearly from another time entirely.

Which, in a very real sense, it is. Not only were Tyrone not All-Ireland champions back then, they were more or less dismissed as contenders off the back of it.

Along the assault course of impossibilities that lay between them and the steps of the Hogan Stand, this was a vertical wall with no discernible rope with which to pull themselves up and over. Yet here they are. A million mad things and they are the ones who start 2022 as kingpins.

“Well, another bum day like that wouldn’t be too good,” Logan says now. “It was a real black mark. Was it quirky? Did we deserve it? Did we ask for it? It’s hard to know. But the bottom line is we can’t afford it this time around. The reality is there’s not a lot between all the teams in Division One, as will be borne out in the next couple of weeks.

“We would hope we won’t be on the wrong end of another lesson like that over the course of the coming weeks. That was our last day playing league football, that’s correct. Hopefully we got a bit of redemption for it later on in the year.”

That they did. And it wouldn't even really be relevant to bring up here, except for the fact that the gaudy scoreline that day appears to have put the impression abroad that, under Logan and Brian Dooher, Tyrone will be league dilettantes.

Even just this week, freshly-minted Newstalk analyst James O’Donoghue was positing precisely that theory, claiming that Dooher in particular has no time for the league and adamant that Tyrone had even done a training session on the morning of the game last June. Logan isn’t having a bar of it.

“I can assure you that by no stretch did we go down to Killarney for a waste of our time,” he says. “Anybody that went to the gym or went for a run, they certainly weren’t training the day of the game. The night before, we got down there and jumped off the bus and threw an American football around in a park just to loosen ourselves up after a long journey.

“But anybody who thinks Tyrone went to Killarney for any other reason than to get into a national league final is so far from the mark. We went down there to beat Kerry, that was the bottom line. For myself and Brian, it was our first national league semi-final – do people really think we were training that morning? That’s madness. No, we went down there to try and beat Kerry, to try and build our own confidence and to maybe, if results worked out, to get into a league final.

League record

“Kerry ripped us to shreds in the first 15 minutes. They had done that in the whole league – they did it to Galway as well as us. They went for goals and piled them in. We just got taught a lesson, nothing more sinister than that. The talent they have, they’re well capable of doing that.”

Old news now, of course. Everything is. Tyrone’s job now is to bathe in amnesia, to convince themselves that they are not All-Ireland champions. If the recent past is any guide, it’s going to be a struggle. The league record of teams this past decade who have just won a landmark All-Ireland is not promising.

Dublin finished fifth in 2012. Donegal were relegated in 2013. Kerry finished one place above the trapdoor in 2015. When you bridge a long gap, it’s no gimme that you’ll come back with the required pep in your step in the new year. Worst of all, you won’t know until you know.

“It’s easy to talk the talk,” Logan concedes. “It’s easy to say last year is gone and forget about last year and look forward to this year. But the challenge is living it. It’s facing into training and matches and just your general way of living as if you have never won it. You have to try and turn the clock back to that scenario. That’s the challenge for everybody.

“I will know in a few months whether or not we have been able to do that. I suppose in fairness we have players who are very ambitious in Tyrone. They set very high standards and there is an expectation that they will push the thing forward, as they have done over a number of years already. The younger players watch them and how they operate and they want to win football matches. That’s the key to progress.”

They were in Orlando for most of the first fortnight of the year. They weren’t long off the plane when a scratch squad went to Breffni Park and got on the wrong side of a thrashing from Cavan. They were a more formidable proposition when they played Armagh four days later and started repatriating a few more of their September heroes but they still ended up losing.

Logan has a fair idea of where they’re at but will be happier on Sunday evening, whatever the result between his side and Monaghan in Healy Park. League games between the two counties are never anything less than searching. Near neighbours, extremely limited little reserves of love lost – if Tyrone aren’t on it, they’ll know all about it.

“Things are generally coming together. We still have a few guys who are working their way back and rehabbing a few things. Our club season went on long into the winter so we had fellas who had bangs and strains that they were late getting around to fixing. Those little bits of repairs jobs that need to be done in the off-season and require a small bit of time to just get right. Week on week we have more and more coming back.

“I was at the game on Saturday night in Omagh, the McKenna Cup game between Donegal and Monaghan. It was a good tight game and everybody was up and going and you can see straight away what attitude everybody is bringing with them. Nobody wants to be left behind. Nobody wants to be playing catch-up, even this early in the year.”

Early is all relative, this year more than ever. Tyrone are in the preliminary round in Ulster, meaning they play Fermanagh a mere 11 weeks from today. Every county is guaranteed nine matches in 2022 – seven of them will be played in the next eight weeks. The league will be half-finished before we even get out of February. The days of easing yourself into the year are strictly past tense.

Stall out

“It is worth reminding yourself of that every now and then,” Logan says. “But in the end, the nature of sport is that you focus on the next day and the next day and that takes up most of your time. Partly, your vision is limited to the next goal. The visibility beyond that takes broader thinking and you don’t always have time for that.

“There is a bit of a factor this year that everything is going to be on top of everybody very quickly. But I think the fact that everyone has been so adaptable over the past two years is going to help. Everybody has got used to league and championship coming on top of each other and I think that’s really going to be what’s needed here again. You’re just going to have to adapt to it and get on with it.

“It’s here now and everyone is going to want to set their stall out early. There is plenty of football to be played between now and the middle of April. Everyone is up and at it. There’s no room this year for taking a couple of months to knock yourself into shape. It’s a 24/7, 12 months a year job now. Everybody is ultra-competitive.”

Winter is over, the daffodils are coming. In Tyrone, they will remember it forever. Dark nights lit up by something that was a genuine, unequivocal delight. All-Ireland champions for the fourth time in their history. It’s over now but they will keep it with them always.

Cavan and Armagh have put us in our place. The nature of it is that you don't get to dwell for long

“What I will remember most of all is the busyness of it,” Logan laughs.

“We came up the road without Sam Maguire – we weren’t allowed to bring the cup home with us because of the regulations at the time. I think it was about a month before we got the actual cup. Even with that and even with the lockdowns and the public health emergency, there was still lots happening. It was good and it brought great joy to the place. But overall, it was busy, busy. Good busy. Happy busy.

“It was all really good and there was just a good feeling around the place. After everything, people got to hear good stories about Tyrone and got to know a bit more about our players and learn a bit about the place we come from. But then, over the last couple of weeks, we’ve got a good lesson of where we are in other people’s minds. Cavan and Armagh have put us in our place. The nature of it is that you don’t get to dwell for long.”

They wouldn’t have it any other way.