Much was expected of the ‘new breed’ of Tyrone footballers who were to replace the All-Ireland winning heroes of the 2000s.
With All-Ireland medals from their minor days in 2008 and 2010, Tyrone, led by these emerging talents were expected to go on contesting at the top table years to come.
As it has happened however, the players who graced the Tyrone senior team between 2001 and 2010 haven’t been easily replaced.
One man seeking to help fill that void is Edendork attacker Darren McCurry who has gone some way towards nailing down a starting place in the current Tyrone team.
The diminutive McCurry burst onto the scene in an All-Ireland qualifier contest against Roscommon in 2012 and has been a regular in the side ever since.
Still only 22, McCurry has grown in confidence and stature at this level: “It’s my fourth year with the team now. I’ve got stronger, I’ve gotten bigger and I’m maturing now.
“I’m 22 and I feel like I’m playing well. This is a good Tyrone team. There’s a nice mix in the team of young and old.”
Having lost out to Monaghan in the opening round of the National League, Tyrone adopted a new system in the games which followed and saw McCurry take up a role much deeper than he had previously been used to.
That wasn’t something which bothered McCurry: “Last year I’d have been an inside man. This year I’ve been pushed out, up and down, so I had to adapt my game, so I’m a lot fitter and a lot stronger which required a lot of work on and off the field and I’m happy enough with my game.”
Having to take up a deeper role for the good of the team was not something which phased the Edendork man when asked if he felt that a deeper role was a waste of his talents: “Everyone has to put in the work that’s required for the team to win. So it’s about spreading the workload over the whole team.
“The backs don’t get the credit for the work that they do. Being a defender and working as hard as that, it’s very tough.
“Donegal have very good forwards, the like of Michael Murphy and Paddy (McBrearty) there. They have very good players.
“We felt that against Donegal, our defence, when they were on the counter-attack was a wee bit open. It was something new (the new system) and required a lot of work and a lot of patience.
“We’re still not there yet, we got relegated to Division Two, so we’re not there yet. We’ll know in two weeks time if it pays off.”
McCurry knows that the defeat to Donegal in the league hurt the Tyrone squad and the criticism levelled at the players from Mickey Harte was certainly hurtful.
“It did hurt. We were well beaten. They beat us very comfortably. We’d put in a lot of work in the league and to go down to Donegal to get hammered, which we did was hard to take for the players and the management.
“It took a wee while to get out of that but I think we’re slowing, gradually getting up there. Suffering a defeat to Donegal like that, knowing that we’re going to play them in the championship, it was a big loss, a big downer for the team but I think we pulled ourselves up well. The boys know the championship is coming up and it’s a championship buzz.”
When questioned about the criticism that had come the way of the All-Ireland winning Under 21 team and the county in general, McCurry accepted that criticism was part and parcel of being an inter-county footballer.
“People are looking to pick out the small things. I think that happens all over the country when you’re winning things.
“But players and managers have to deal with that stuff and that comes as part and parcel of playing for the county. And when you are winning things you’ll get a big of stick like the Under 21s but that’s all part of the game.”
Having suffered relegation to Division Two following the National League campaign, McCurry knows that that disappointment will soon be forgotten if Tyrone can make strides in the championship: “I know we’re down into Division Two but we’ve a chance against Donegal to redeem ourselves. It’s going to be a very tough game but we’ll see how things go.”