Ronan McNamee says Tyrone needed to notch up Dublin scalp

Defender admits beating Dubs was overdue and calls the attacking mark “a pain”

Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee celebrates after beating Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee celebrates after beating Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

 

Tyrone’s victory over Dublin on Saturday evening leaves them in with a shout of reaching the league final, a prospect that most people would have dismissed as wishful thinking after three rounds when the county was in the relegation zone on just one point.

Even Ronan McNamee, Tyrone’s experienced defender, acknowledged that the idea appeared far-fetched.

“I don’t think anyone would have thought that, and you wouldn’t have given out to anyone for not thinking that. Football is a funny game and you can’t read too much into January football or February football, even though some people think different,” he said.

“You go out early and have a couple of losses at the start of the year and the season was nearly over. If you read too much into it or listened to what was outside your training zone, you would nearly hang your boots up.”

Having lost to Kerry and Mayo in the opening two fixtures, Tyrone could only muster a draw in Roscommon in the third match – and McNamee says they weren’t unhappy.

“Put a fox out of a hen-house”

“Sure, there was an absolute gale force blowing. You wouldn’t have put a fox out of a hen-house in it and boys were trying to play football. It was a 10-point wind, easily, at half-time and you just take it and we were glad of the point in the end of it.”

Form picked up with restorative wins over Ulster rivals Monaghan and Cavan but they weren’t given much chance against Dublin in the weekend’s revisiting of last year’s All-Ireland final. They hadn’t beaten the champions at all for six years but that disguised a strong record at Croke Park where Tyrone are now unbeaten in their last four regulation league fixtures.

McNamee, like his manager Mickey Harte, is reluctant to read excessively into the defeat of the holders, a result that means Dublin won’t be in the league final for the first time in seven years.

“It is March; it is far too early to look into that,” he said. “They are probably only getting their squad rightly together and training together and you can be damn sure come the end of the year, they will be there or thereabouts. Everybody else strives to hit the heights they are at – they set the bar ridiculously high for everyone else.

“Might be destroyed”

“They are a class act the way they play football. Kerry beat them and Monaghan beat them and now we have beat them. Suppose it gives you a wee insight in how you can beat them, but like I say, it is March. You get a pat on the back today but you might be destroyed the next day. That’s the way it is.”

There was a lot of focus on how effective Tyrone’s more varied attack has proved in recent matches, especially at Croke Park on Saturday. Using Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane as inside-line targets for early ball paid off spectacularly with 1-7 – all but a point from play – between them.

“Petey (Harte) has been in there for a while too,” says McNamee, “and it works at times. Cathal as well throws himself about well and Mattie – they are all very strong lads and versatile.

“You can play them out in the middle of the field or can play them anywhere. If you get the right ball into them, it can cause confusion. There were times when we could have got the ball better into them but whenever they did get their chances, they took them.”

Yet for all that 1-14 was a decent return and Tyrone’s best in this league fixture at Croke Park since 2013, defence was also very influential in restricting Dublin to their lowest total for a year.

Attacking marks

Although his team scored 0-3 from attacking marks McNamee, an All Star nomination in 2015, isn’t a particular fan of the trial currently being conducted in the league.

“Ah, it’s a pain – as if the game is not hard enough to mark Mattie Donnelly or Cathal McShane or Dean Rock without throwing a mark in and giving forwards a chance to kick an easy score. The game was hard before and it is ten times harder now.”

After four defeats by Dublin in little over 12 months to last year’s All-Ireland final, the weekend win was a useful indicator of how Tyrone are beginning to close the gap, he never believed that beating Jim Gavin’s team was an impossibility.

“You could say aye, we needed to beat them but it is not a case that we couldn’t beat them. We knew ourselves if we set up right and got our play right, we wouldn’t be far away and we are as good as anyone on the day.”

Next weekend Tyrone welcome Connacht champions Galway to Omagh for a match which could see either advance to the final, as the football season gets serious.

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