Posted by Mickey Harte
Friday 1 June 2012
As Dublin embark on their championship journey they face a challenge that has become increasingly more difficult in the modern game.
History tells us that it is very difficult to retain the All-Ireland because since Cork did it in 1990, only one other team has achieved the feat in the meantime and that was Kerry in 2007.
You’re talking about a long period of time when it hasn’t been done and that is an indication of how hard it is. When you consider Kerry -- who have won more All-Irelands than anybody -- are among the teams that have failed so often to retain it, that really brings it home what a difficult challenge it is.
But why is it such a rare achievement? For a start, the qualifiers make it much harder for teams because there are counties, including the serious contenders, who have been beaten early in the championship and who then get a chance to regroup. Once they have accepted that they have been defeated, and have that feeling in their bones, as it were, and still have a chance to bounce back, it’s a big factor in those teams getting stronger as the qualifiers progress.
For teams such as Tyrone and Armagh – and indeed Donegal and Derry in the 1990s -- who came through for the first time ever and experienced the thrill of finally winning the Sam Maguire it was especially difficult to retain the title. It is sometimes unavoidable that counties might indulge themselves even though there might not be a desire to do that. But because there is so much excitement that goes with winning one and a higher status that is gained, celebrations do take hold. And, in fairness, they have to because if you achieve something for the first time in your life there is bound to be a euphoria that accompanies the milestone.
Players will indulge themselves but then hope that they will still be in top shape to defend the title. It is easy to forget, though, how hard you work and the dedication you put into achieving something for the first time and believe that because you have achieved it you may not have to work as hard again the next time. That subconsciously seeps into players and teams and it is hard to guard against.
I think it takes an exceptional side to be able to win the All-Ireland, enjoy the success, and then come back and win it again the following year. For Tyrone, circumstances were different. After the breakthrough in 2003 we lost Cormac McAnallen and when you consider the tragedy that was in the lives of young players and the impact it had on all of us, I consider 2004 not to count. We were running on empty and were drained of our energy in many other ways and I think it was a real success for Tyrone that year to reach the quarter-finals.
I suppose 2004 gave them a chance to find their feet again and then, of course, 2005 was an exceptional year for us. It took 10 games to get there and it was one of those things where you get on a roll and feel like everything is going righht. Different teams have found that being knocked out of the championship proper yet being able to deal with it in the same season has helped them get over the setback. It makes teams who were already capable of challenging for the All-Ireland serious contenders as the summer goes on if they can get over the initial shock of a defeat.
In Dublin, with the players in more demand and regularly in the public eye, the challenge to repeat the achievement is that bit steeper. The media tend to focus on them so they are under more scrutiny than any other team. Even before they won last year’s All-Ireland there were always these intense build-ups that accompanied their campaigns. They were built up to the extent that when they did suffer defeat they were wiped out by the media.
Pat Gilroy will be happy enough that they are coming in a bit under the radar at the moment. There is a challenge, though, to being in that position and balancing it with the confidence you had before. Gilroy has to find out if the confidence that drove them to the title last year is still with the players. He won’t really know that until they make some progress through this championship but I’ve no doubt they will be serious contenders and will take some beating.
IN TYRONE, we’ve been unlucky that we’ve now lost four players to injury. Tommy McGuigan suffered a long-term problem, Ronan O’Neill did his cruciate and then we lost Kyle Coney and Sean Cavanagh to rare injuries. It’s a huge set-back because they are very attack-minded players and, obviously, quality players. You cannot maintain your assault on any major title without your best players but we have to live with that and see how we regroup.
I believe we have a big enough squad to give a good account of ourselves and we’ll see when the season progresses how we cope with the adversity we’ve been confronted with.
It’s a bit premature to say Brian McGuigan is back but we should know at the weekend whether it is definite or not that he returns. I’m hoping he does return but as of now it hasn’t been confirmed. We should know by Sunday and if he does come back it will be a huge boost to us. He’s a quality player with brilliant vision and the ability to turn games and that’s what you need in championship football.
There is no one else on the way back at the moment but we will have our eyes open for any other quality player who we feel may be of assistance to the squad. None of the old brigade, however, have indicated that they will return.
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