‘We’re quite happy to be where we are’
The only problem for O’Neill, it seems, is getting the sort of ball he needs
Tyrone's Mark Donnelly celebrates scoring his sides second goal against Kildare with Seán Cavanagh. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Mickey Harte didn’t need to rehearse the answer, as he’s heard the question so many times before, but if this passage to the Allianz Football League final proved one thing it’s the enduring importance of Stephen O’Neill to the prospects of winning titles.
“Sure he’s vital to our team at the minute,” said Harte, “because nobody else out there today came close to delivering what we needed to deliver. That’s what good players do. Turn it on like that, when they’re needed. The angles he kicked those points from, well, I’d love to see them again.”
The only problem for O’Neill, it seems, is getting the sort of ball he needs – or rather Tyrone delivering it. He was isolated for long periods here, particularly in the first half, although that, Harte felt, was as much to do with Kildare.
“It wasn’t entirely his fault, because we probably weren’t delivering good ball into him. There was a degree of wind factor there, and Kildare did have quite a few players camped in front of the direct route.”
PJ Quinn and Dermot Carlin, making first starts this season, and newcomer Conor McAlliskey, who kicked two points, certainly strengthen the Tyrone squad, although there are concerns now about the fitness of Peter Harte, who retired early here with a hamstring injury.
Harte’s main concern is trying to coax a consistent 70 minutes from his charges.
“It was strange, in that we missed quite a few chances. We were happy enough to be only the point behind at the break, because at one stage they’d made the swing from being two or three down, to two or three up.
“Some days players deliver, some days they don’t, but it’s about getting as many to deliver as possible, and competitive games like this is the best way to do that. But some people make too much of a settled side. A bit of fluidity in the squad is not a bad thing, keeps some places up for grabs. But we’re quite happy to be where we are, and quite happy to be in a league final.”
Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney was left lamenting the shooting of his own players and yet praising the accuracy of O’Neill: “It’s disappointing. We probably had more scoring chances than they had, but they just took more of them.
“Although you have to give credit to Stephen O’Neill. No matter what kind of defence you have, his couple of points were just incredible there.
“But for us, to drop shots short, or miss good goal chances, maybe we need to be more ruthless. Because we’re not clinical enough, and that’s killing us. Not every county has players like Stephen O’Neill, but we still have to take our chances when they come.
“Their second goal was a killer, 1-1 in two minutes. We clawed it back, although it’s hard to blame our guys, two guys just going for the same ball. But there were times we needed to pull the trigger a little earlier ourselves, instead of trying to walk it in, like we did.”
McGeeney will be culling his panel by a few players ahead of the championship, although Dermot Earley is now suffering from a back injury which is seriously threatening him ever returning to the game, “managing to walk” being his main concern, said McGeeney.