Teamwork and talent the perfect match for Tyrone
F or any county wishing to understand where football is now at, the Ulster semi-final between Derry and Tyrone was quite revealing.
The standard of play that Tyrone are capable of is what everyone else, including Cork, must aspire to if they are to have a chance of plundering silverware in Dublin in September.
Tyrone are now used to the scrutiny that success brings. People will write about their system with particular emphasis on the defensive side of things. I am sure that suits Mickey Harte and the Tyrone side very well but there is no system in the world which guarantees winning the All-Ireland without a big number of very talented individuals. And Tyrone have most of the very best players in the right part of the field.
Old men will always counsel that defenders can be created but forwards are born. It may be a bit simplistic but only slightly. Forwards need the one thing that can never be coached and that is vision. A defender can get away with simple plays, most backs at the moment just shovel the ball on to someone else in the chain but there has to be an executioner at the end of the line. So the forward might be able to play in the backs but the back will never make a top forward. Of course you might say people like Brendan Reilly and Graham Geraghty started off as backs and ended up as special forwards but I would say they were always forwards in disguise.
Anyway, the point is that Tyrone have an exceptional group of five or six players and a willingness by all others to work towards the common good.
If every team needs a few exceptional talents, then Seán Cavanagh, Stephen O'Neill, Tommy and Brian McGuigan, Brian Dooher, Ryan McMenamin and Conor Gormley are of officer class. And when some of these were struggling last Sunday, Kevin Hughes and Martin Penrose took on the mantle. After that there are a number of players who are interchangeable, so if one or two are missing there are those who can step in and do the same job, without attempting anything flash. In other words, the ultimate in team sport.
Not unbeatable by any means yet the main problems for Tyrone in their off years have been internal. Injuries to key players has been the biggest reason why they were derailed before. The real measure of greatness for any team this year would be to take on and beat a Tyrone side at full strength.
So far only Cork have given hope on that front: power and pace are the biggest assets any team can have and Cork have those in abundance, maybe even more so than Tyrone.
Mayo's victory last week has been largely ignored. They have a lot of good players even if the team element has often been a problem. But any county that beats them will have done a very good day's work. A bit of luck in the draw and Mayo could easily be in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The same is true for Galway. Managers are much too polite and respectful to talk about games further down the line but Liam Sammon is planning to peak in August. For the present there is a holding operation; of course the shortest route back to Croke Park is the most desirable yet the chance of a Connacht title is not something to push his team into overdrive. The exact opposite applies to Sligo. Since Kevin Walsh arrived, the sprint into oblivion has been arrested -- if you pardon the pun (the manager is a Garda). Since the Connacht final win in 2007, the traffic has been one way, south. Now at least a semblance of respectability has been restored with promotion from Division 4. It would be a surprise if Sligo are anything other than competitive today. Perhaps one day Walsh will patrol the sideline with his native county but today he is likely to end up on the losing side and will spend a bit of anxious time waiting for the draw to see where the Lord takes him. Maybe to greener pastures!
In Croke Park, the seasoned watchers will hope for signs of the big Dublin breakthrough. The taxi driver I had in Dublin last week was very confident. He reckons the Dubs only play well in good weather and it was the rain of the last few years which was the reason for the poor performances. Indeed he felt that the display against Tyrone last year was completely down to the weather: "It is always raining up there," up there I took to mean Tyrone, while he also felt that the match should have been called off as the Dubs had "no chance". All that was
missing was for him to throw in that it was all part of a Government, Church or culchie plot to stop Dublin winning.
So everyone will be supporting the Dubs this year. When the sun shines, there will be no recession either. Pat Gilroy will put more emphasis on his players than on a sun dance Rory O'Carroll makes his debut, probably the start of a long run. There is a bit of rearranging with Mark Davoren out -- and he will be a loss. Jayo returns and for all his honesty, unselfishness and hard work, he is not going to shoot the lights out, something Dublin needs badly. A Cavanagh or an O'Neill would be enough to bridge the gap between them and the summit.
Westmeath have staggered into the headlights after one of the worst championship games in years, their win over Wicklow. Mick O'Dwyer's comment after that game that they would not be nearly fit for Dublin should hold for Westmeath as well. They have had a bad year so far and while their league form is probably not as bad as it looks, they are not the force which put every Leinster team under pressure for most of this decade.
Dublin's long war to continue with a place in the Leinster final -- and a wish for a sunny day for that one as well.