ANY semblance of complacency in the Tyrone ranks should be shaken out of their system by the nature of their flat showing for three quarters of the Derry match, defender Michael McKernan insists.
Shane McGuigan’s goal with a quarter of an hour remaining looked to have laid the foundations for a shock Oak Leaf triumph at Healy Park a fortnight ago and to make a mockery of the pre-match odds.
To their credit though Tyrone found their mojo in the closing straight, inspired by an excellent Darren McCurry goal, and cruised home to victory in the end by six points.
The victors will face a similar scenario this Saturday night when they come up against those perennial Ulster minnows Antrim in the first round, with no-one giving Lenny Harbinson’s men a chance, but Michael McKernan stresses that the Derry game provided a cautionary tale of what to expect if not firing on all cylinders.
“We were big favourites against Derry too but they gave us a big scare and nearly caught us but thankfully we did enough to get over the line.
“You know coming into the Ulster Championship that there is no such thing as an easy game,” he said.
“I’m living with two Derry boys who were in the panel at the start of the year.
“They were praising the training they were doing to work on their fitness. We knew they were going to be able to match us in that regard and make it physical.
“Last year Fermanagh were the surprise team so we can’t take anything for granted with Antrim. They’ll push us hard like Derry did and they will have the fitness too. Hopefully we will get over the line with them too.”
The 21- year-old Jordanstown student revealed that Tyrone had learnt lessons from last year’s Ulster
opening round defeat against Monaghan when he felt their attitude and focus fell well short of what it should be.
“You have to take each game as it comes. Last year against Monaghan we were a bit lackadaisical going into it and they caught us. But we focus on every team we are playing and don’t look ahead of ourselves.”
The talented young Coalisland star praised the strength of the Tyrone bench and the resources they now have at their disposal, pointing at the significant impact the substitutes made in the second half against Derry.
“Derry were always a threat and they nearly got a goal with their first attack. There was always a goal in them. They have very strong runners. But we have a strong bench, the likes of Darren (McCurry) and Kyle (Coney) are back in this year. They came in, as did a couple of others, and did a job.”
Tyrone have had little time to take stock following their preliminary round match but McKernan believes that a fortnightly schedule of big Championship games will suit the team down to the ground.
“It’s better having football nearly week in week out. There is no real hard training between games with them coming thick and fast. Everyone just wants to go out and play football. Training will still be intense and sharp though.”
FULL STORY IN THURSDAY’S PAPER…