The Tyrone turnaround has been sparked by youth becoming experience and it could be argued that Tiernan McCann exemplifies this as well as any other player.
Now aged 26, McCann has turned into one of the leading half-backs in the country and will go toe-to-toe with the likes of James McCarthy and Jack McCaffrey this Sunday in Croke Park.
The role of the attacking wing-back has been one of the primary evolutions of modern-day Gaelic Football. Tomás O’Sé, Karl Lacey and Lee Keegan are three of the best examples. And speaking to gaa.ie ahead of 2017’s second semi-final, Tiernan McCann identified the players he looked up as part of his own development;
‘‘From my mid-teens I had always seen Aaron Kernan as the perfect role model and a player I wanted to try and develop into as he had everything and represented his club, county, province and country at the highest stage.
“Obviously, Tyrone winning three All-Irelands, I took great admiration from those players. They were blessed with Phillip Jordan as a key component, he was a terrific player I modelled my game on.”
Growing up as a Tyrone youngster in the 2000’s left no shortage of players to aspire to and that included manager Mickey Harte who McCann is now privileged to be playing under. But Tiernan has not been the sole McCann in the Tyrone starting line-up in 2017 as his brother Conall has now joined him in the team.
Having starred for St. Mary’s in the Sigerson Cup, Conall McCann has become a permanent fixture in Mickey Harte’s side and Tiernan McCann spoke of what it is like playing alongside his brother;
‘‘I’m delighted he’s got that opportunity to showcase his abilities. He’s really been a standout player for Killyclogher for a number of years now, especially on our run to winning the championship last year and he carried that form into the Sigerson with St. Mary’s. I’m confident he’ll continue to improve and develop at County level.’’
The 2016 season concluded prematurely for Tyrone when they lost to Mayo by a single point at the quarter-final stage, a result that took many by surprise. Ronan McNamee made the point before the Armagh game that the side had learned a harsh lesson from that defeat and the view was echoed by Tiernan McCann.
“We’ve experienced the pain of defeat and disappointment whereas last year we went the whole year unbeaten and got caught cold by a better Mayo team”.
It is clear that this Tyrone side is bottling up a lot of hurt from last season. They lost to Mayo by one single point having lost Sean Cavanagh to a red-card. Looking on at the rest of the championship saw Mayo lose the All-Ireland final to Dublin by a point after a replay.
Tyrone have definitely improved this season as their scoring tallies have suggested. Tyrone have been Dublin’s arch nemesis in the All-Ireland series over the years. Defeats in 2005 and 2008 were two that hurt the most. Dublin did comprehensively defeat Tyrone in 2011, but 2017 looks to be a totally different Tyrone outfit.
Over the years, few teams have upset the Dubs more than Tyrone. History can count for little at times, but Sunday has the potential to be one of the most interesting games in a long time.
Listen to our GAA team discuss the Dublin versus Tyrone clash, as well as Kerry v Mayo, on this week’s edition of The 16th Man with Dominos.