EVERY man and his dog seemed to think Tyrone were going nowhere fast after a dire start to the league, but Ciaran Gourley says that it was far too hasty to be rubbishing their chances of a successful 2019.
The Red Hands seem to have turned a corner in the last fortnight with back-to-back wins over Monaghan and Cavan, and Gourley knows from experience that manager Mickey Harte will be eyeing up a possible place in the Division One final.
Their hopes of doing so will evaporate into the ether if they can’t spring an upset in their penultimate league clash against Dublin on Saturday week, but nevertheless the mood in the county has lifted considerably after tepid defeats to Kerry and Mayo.
Treble All-Ireland winner Gourley said: “I think everyone got a bit carried away when they saw Tyrone lose their first couple of matches.
“When I was playing with Tyrone we sometimes had bad starts to the season. It’s not the end of the world and they’ve shown that in the last two matches.
“I think we’ll go into the Dublin game with a lot of confidence. They aren’t really setting the world alight at the moment themselves, they’ll still building towards the championship so it has the making of a good game.”
Gourley was part of the first ever Tyrone team to claim the Division One title when they absolutely demolished Cavan at Clones back in 2002.
They retained their crown a year later and he believes that Mickey Harte won’t give up the ghost of added a third title to the roll of honour list until it’s statistically impossible.
“Tyrone will want to make the most of the games they have left and Mickey won’t have given up hope of finishing in the top two.
“Although Kerry look like they’ll definitely be there, the second place is up for grabs and if there’s a chance of getting to the final Mickey will want to be there.”
Tyrone were uncharacteristically shapeless at the beginning of the league with Mayo in particular breaching the Red Hand defence practically at their leisure.
They’ve improved considerably, however, in their recent wins over Monaghan and Cavan, and Gourley said that hard work will always be at the core of Tyrone’s success regardless of the tactics utilised.
“In the first two games people wondered if Tyrone had any system of play at all. Colm Cavanagh hasn’t been involved, and they didn’t seem to be playing a sweeper, but what they have done is try to have more of a focal point in the full-forward line.
“Tyrone are starting to move the ball quicker and are kicking the ball into the full-forward line and hopefully that will minimise the chance for other teams to pack their defence.
“Our tackling has always been in your face and crowding the man in possession. You don’t necessarily need to have a sweeper as there’s an ethos in the team that they have to work whether they’re attacking or defending.”
Saturday week’s encounter against the Dublin monolith should tell a tale of where the Red Hands truly stand at present. They haven’t beaten the Dubs since a group stage match in 2013, but Jim Gavin’s side weren’t long in getting revenge when they won the league final against Tyrone that very same year.
Gourley says it isn’t the end of the world if they don’t overcome Dublin but accepts that it would be good for team morale if they end their run of defeats to the All-Ireland champions.
“I don’t think you should get too bogged down in the psychology of playing Dublin,” he said.
“I think the players will see it as another challenge to get a good result. It won’t be the end of the world if they lose but they have had a number of defeats to Dublin and this group of players will want to get over that stumbling block. If they do lose they’ll move on and maybe later in the year they’ll have another chance to play Dublin.”