No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

Harte and Tyrone shaping up for an ambush on Mayo

MICKEY Harte emerged from Sean MacCumhaill Park on May 26th after being beaten by Donegal for the third year in a row.

It will not have been a pleasant experience for the Glencull man, but as he stood on the training pitch at the Ballybofey venue, he was chewing the cud on the happenings of a claustrophobic seventy minutes that had been and gone. Colm McFadden and Ross Wherity hit goals for Donegal and Niall Morgan had a wretched afternoon with his frees.

Down, but not out seemed to be Harte’s verdict as he was overheard mentioning: “Tyrone will be in the 2013 Championship when Donegal have made their exit.”

His words have echoed since.

Tyrone got to a National League final and obviously had a good spring before that. They got overturned by Donegal in Ballybofey but, for long spells, they were on top. Donegal got the two goals at very important times – perfect times actually – and had Niall Morgan worn the shooting boots that day the game could well have panned out differently.

Tyrone have come back since with four wins and had a hard campaign having had to meet Kildare, Meath and Monaghan along the way.

Listening to opinion and looking at odds, it seems as if Sunday’s semi-final will be a formality for Mayo against Tyrone – Mayo are 2/7 and you can get anything up to 3/1 for a Tyrone win.

Mayo have been whitewashed every team that has attempted to stand in their way this summer. They have absolutely obliterated the opposition. You have to say that they have been very impressive – they had Donegal beaten after 15 minutes. They have hunger and desire in abundance and are really being driven by the memories and the hurt of 2012.

But then, there’s Tyrone.

Harte will have a gameplan in place that will be designed to frustrate Mayo for as long as Tyrone can.

This is something that Tyrone are masters at – and I believe that Tyrone will make it an uncomfortable afternoon for James Horan and Mayo.

There are a number of interesting battles, none more so than the two sets of brothers clashing in the middle of the field. A team’s crest is a team’s bond, but at centrefield it’ll be interesting to see if it’ll be the blood of the Cavanaghs – Sean and Colm – and the blood of the Mayo O’Sheas – Aidan and Seamus – that curls first at Croke Park. It’s a unique battle ground with the sets of brothers in direct combat – surely a first in Gaelic football.

Here also stands two real live candidates for the Footballer of the Year award in Sean Cavanagh and Aidan O’Shea.

Both of them have been absolutely pivotal to their team’s seasons – and that won’t change on Sunday. Cavanagh and O’Shea both have the ability to be the match winner here.

The O’Sheas have been the main reason Mayo have got the platform for wins this summer. They are the men who do the graft and provide the weapons to the gun slingers of Moran, O’Connor and Freeman.

For Tyrone to win on Sunday, they’ll need everything to fall into place and will need massive displays from Sean Cavanagh and Stephen O’Neill. So far, O’Neill has not set a match to the touchpaper, but could Sunday be the Clann na nGael man’s time? Quite possibly.

People talked about the mileage in Donegal’s legs, but some of these boys in Tyrone have been on the go for a decade and some even have three Celtic Crosses.

On the mantelpieces of Cavanagh, O’Neill, Pascal McConnell, Conor Gormley and Dermot Carlin there rest three All-Ireland medals. The McMahons, Justin and Joe, Colm Cavanagh and Martin Penrose have become the old dogs for the hard road too. They still have hunger and desire and this cannot be questioned.

Tyrone’s fire burns as bright as it did in those dizzy days of 2003 – and the light of Mickey Harte is beginning to shine again.

Pride lives within them – and the recent media frenzy that surrounded aspects of their play will only have served to add further fuel to their flames. When Tyrone and Mickey Harte have had their backs to the wall, they’ve come out and answered in style.

It will be a big ask for them to win on Sunday, but I envisage them making it extremely hard for Mayo, who needn’t think they’ll have a repeat of their coast against Donegal.

Horan, Donie Buckley and the rest of the Mayo backroom team deserve immense credit for what they’ve achieved in the last couple of years and Buckley’s introduction was, I feel, a master stroke by Horan.

Their tackling has been near perfect and Buckley, as their tackle coach, is the man to get the hat tip here. That’s just one aspect of Mayo, though.

Aidan O’Shea has lost 21lbs of weight since September. He is in phenomenal shape these days and he is personification of the work that Mayo have been doing. He is the man Tyrone must curb, but he’s far from a lone figure.

Andy Moran has come back and is in good shape, Cillian O’Connor has six goals in two games, an unbelievable tally, and Alan Freeman is another dangerous archer. Donal Vaughan’s probing runs from deep were key against Donegal, but he was allowed do it and his timing was so precise. Tyrone, again, will have to guard against this – but, and here’s the thing, Tyrone are capable of thwarting these advances.

Mayo, it is said, is a group on a mission – but you could see from early on this year that Tyrone were on a mission of their own, too.

They made that known in the McKenna Cup and kept it up right through the League.

They had a blip against Donegal – but that’s all it was.

Harte knew it when he opined that Tyrone would last the distance.

They’re two fences from that most glorious of winning posts again. Harte’s words have come to pass already. Now the question is if he and his team can clear the next hurdle – who are we to doubt him?


THERE will be a number of things in Donegal that will have to change before Jim McGuinness confirms that he’ll stay on, I believe.

The club championship no doubt impacted on his plans and preparations with three games played in the Senior Championship – and it’s something I suspect the management will want to address.

There has been a huge break and will be another couple of weeks before the quarter-finals are played.

I think the way to go is play the entire League – get the whole thing run off – before starting into the Championship. I mean play the League from start to finish (no matter who is there or who is away) and then the Championship from start to finish. It is nigh on impossible as a club manager to start planning for a Club Championship that is as haphazard as the one we have, with weeks and in some cases even months between games.


MY father, Dan, sadly passed away at home last Saturday morning.

He left a real legacy in our area when it came to Gaelic Football. When there was club in Doochary or Lettermacaward, I remember at times in the late 70s and early 80s when he’d pack ten or twelve of us into a car to go to The Banks where we’d play for Rosses Rovers. This started with winning Championships then at under 12 level.

The likes of dad, Seamus McGarvey, Liam Reilly, Peter Boyle, Jimmy ‘Nappy’ O’Donnell and Naul McCole were among the men involved and they were instrumental in a Rosses Rovers team that was really successful in that time.

The Rosses Rovers amalgamation ceased to be in the early 1980s.

My father was instrumental in the formation of Na Rossa then and in those days there was no such thing as busses – it was just piling players into the car!

My father was a great Gael and he’ll be sorely missed by all of us.

I must say the GAA family was a real support to us last weekend and the amount of people from all the clubs in the county who turned out was impressive. I want to put on record the thanks of myself and the family to everyone who came to the wake and funeral or who have passed on messages of support since dad’s death.

Have you a comment to make on any of the above or would you like Declan to raise an issue in this column? Get in touch by email at

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