Stakes high for Tyrone as they make the long trip south

Defeat in Killarney could see All-Ireland champions relegated from top flight

Depending on the outcome of Sunday's final scrap to decide who is relegated from Division One, some counties may be able to interpret the extent of the blow better than others.

Five of the eight counties are in danger of making the drop: Kildare, Donegal, and Tyrone on five points each, plus Dublin and Monaghan on four points each, and in some cases their fate may be outside their own control.

The losers of Monaghan against Dublin will be relegated, for example, although the winners aren’t guaranteed safety either.

For Dublin, despite where they’re coming from, relegation may not be the end of the world: as their 1995 All-Ireland-winning team were recently reminded, they’d been relegated earlier that season, and it didn’t do their ultimate goal any great harm.

Two years ago, Mayo were also relegated from the Covid-interrupted league, and still recovered from that blow to make the All-Ireland final, losing to Dublin; after being promoted last season, they also made the All-Ireland final, losing to Tyrone.

It's 20 years since Armagh were the last team to win the All-Ireland football title having played in Division Two that season; since then Cork, in 2007, were the only county relegated from Division One to make an All-Ireland final the same year, losing to Kerry.

In 2011, former Tyrone manager Mickey Harte made a telling statement where he doubted whether any county from outside Division One could win the All-Ireland.

Now Tyrone, under joint managers Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan, are facing the gently damning prospect of being relegated as All-Ireland champions. They face the long trip to Killarney on Sunday, where last year in the league they lost 6-15 to 1-14.

Kerry may not be as eager this time given they’ve already made the league final, still a Tyrone defeat, coupled with Dublin or Monaghan winning below them, would well drag them down.

Tyrone forward Cathal McShane was reminded of Harte's comment from 2011, at an event of league sponsors Allianz, and certainly wasn't worried yet about the doubt any county would win an All-Ireland coming in or out from Division Two.

“Well, when you look at it, I’ve been involved in a few Tyrone teams that ran into a bit of difficulty in the league, where not everything went our way,” said McShane. “There’s no point worrying, it’s trusting what you’re about and working towards that.

Slow start

“It’s not nice when things don’t go to plan, but last year’s league didn’t go particularly well and we were still able to achieve a high standard.”

Last weekend, Tyrone beat Mayo by two points in a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland, and McShane isn’t making any excuses for their slow start, except perhaps some delayed return after last September’s triumph.

“You could throw in that in there, for sure. Last year took a lot out of everyone, and even after the All-Ireland, we all went back to our clubs in Tyrone, then went on to December, so it was a short turnaround since then, it terms of getting back onto the field.

“It’s definitely been up and down, we tried to get off to a good start, some things didn’t go to plan, but we know what we’re capable, we know the levels we can get to. Even if you look at the Monaghan game, it was a poor night for football in general, and we still came away with a draw, when either team could have won. We’ve been chipping away.”

McShane is confident the team are heading to where they need to be, still from previous record, Tyrone do struggle the season after winning an All-Ireland.

“Don’t get me wrong we’re not happy with some of our results, but it’s just been a strange year, and if you look back last year, Tyrone didn’t perform too well either, a different format I know, but after that game in Kerry things changed, got ramped up a bit.

“Even now, our squad is very, very competitive, we have serious talent, and yes some experience has stepped away. We’ve also brought in a lot of young players though and that has strengthened our panel. For ourselves, it doesn’t take too much for things to look up, there are small margins, and we just have to trust in ourselves, positive things will happen.”

Either way Tyrone head into Sunday with the straightforward mindset; beat Kerry in Killarney and they avoid any blow.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics

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