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The game-changer - saying no to Oz causes sudden shift in Tyrone's outlook for 2020

Cathal McShane’s move is a major lift for Mickey Harte’s side.

Cathal McShane in action against Tadhg Morley in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.
Cathal McShane in action against Tadhg Morley in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

IT HAS HARDLY been the brightest of starts to the New Year for Tyrone football.

The backdrop was their 2019 championship exit, an All-Ireland semi-final slipping away from them in the second-half against Kerry as a seven-point swing after the break decided the game.

Their early league form has been mixed, putting Meath away down the stretch in Omagh before coming undone against Monaghan in Castleblayney.

But the hardest hit came in early January. Reports surfaced of Cathal McShane’s impending move to Australia with Brisbane Lions initially linked as the destination of choice, Mickey Harte reiterated his distaste for the movement of Gaelic footballers to the AFL and then it was confirmed that McShane was heading to Adelaide for a trial with the Crows.

Only six days into 2020 and the outlook for Tyrone’s season seemed grim.

And now it has swiftly changed overnight.

McShane has decided to resist the overtures from Australian clubs, nailing his colours to the Red Hands mast. It’s a timely boost for Tyrone. They were able to ward off the advances from Brisbane Lions over a decade ago for Sean Cavanagh but saw Kyle Coney have a spell in Sydney and lost the highly promising Conor McKenna to Essendon.

Every county that is robbed of a prospect to an Australian Rules club is destined to have their fans locked into debates over what life would have been like if their bright sparks had stayed put. Tyrone are no different, they feel they have suffered enough and in Harte they have a figurehead fundamentally opposed to any relationship being forged between the sports of Gaelic football and Australian Rules.

So they will rejoice in McShane staying put then. The magnitude of the decision he had to make was clearly rooted in how recognised he was on the inter-county scene and how  unusual it was for an Irish player at the age of 24 to make such a move. The custom has been for youngsters fresh from the underage ranks to decamp to Australia, not a player who resides amongst the senior elite. Tommy Walsh and Ciaran Sheehan made moves after collecting All-Ireland medals for their honours collections but they were exceptions to an established practice.

It was going to be tough for McShane to make such a leap. He would have appreciated the risk was one he was undertaking, not one that the Adelaide Crows had to bear. The club’s statement was interesting with their general manager Justin Reid talking about how it was ‘a big decision to relocate’ and ‘this was not something that Cathal was ready for’.

The choice is a massive lift for Tyrone’s fortunes and at base Owen Roe O’Neill’s. For all those who marvelled at his attacking play as Tyrone weaved a path through the championship last summer, it gave cause to imagine just how instrumental he is at club level given his versatility, powerful presence and crisp kicking in front of goal.

In December, McShane talked with Brendan Crossan of The Irish News after a season where he finished the championship top scorer and was stood on the stage at the Convention Centre with an All-Star trophy grasped in his hand. The interview was a reminder of his progression from that All-Ireland U21 success in 2015, his attempts to nail down a place in the senior half-forward line for Tyrone before emerging as the focal point close to goal.

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The frequency of his scoring and the damage he caused the likes of Derry, Longford, Roscommon, Kildare, Cavan and Cork last summer was a product of reshaping himself as a footballer. He worked hard on the qualities needed for that attacking role. In doing so he offered Tyrone something different, something they had been lacking and a vital outlet for those forwards around him.

Just as McShane had announced himself in style, it looked as if he was lost to Tyrone and fuelled the talk that the 2018 All-Ireland finalists were stalling or sliding into reverse.

But McShane is remaining at home, sticking with what he knows. The pressure may be on now for him to perform yet ahead of Sunday’s tie in Omagh of Kerry, a team that struggled to contain him in the first-half in particular in Croke Park last August, it will shift the attitude of most towards the home side.

For Tyrone this is a game-changer, they will believe again they are back on track for 2020.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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