Ciarán Whelan: Tyrone have abandoned their silly goading and it makes them dangerous
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THERE was a time when you would see an Ulster clash scheduled for TV and there would be pre-conceived ideas writing the game off as dour affair before it had even been played.
The opposite happened me last weekend and I am still trying to figure out why?
I had a real sense of anticipation and excitement when sitting down to watch Tyrone play Derry last weekend in the Ulster Championship quarter-final.
Maybe, it was the fact that it was the first real championship game with an intense rivalry, and the rogue in me expected a tense game played on the edge with fireworks in Celtic Park.
Or maybe, it was the fact that defensive styles or what many used to refer to as ‘negative tactics’ are now just the norm within modern day football and we are embracing the tactical battle on show.
Or maybe it was because the other provinces offer nothing in terms of entertainment and indirectly the status of the Ulster Championship has grown in our mind-sets. I suspect the latter is the more defining reason for my enthusiasm but some of the quality football from Tyrone on show was exhilarating to watch.
What we did learn is that Tyrone have bundles of potential but unfortunately their opponents Derry need to ask themselves a lot of questions.
Derry football from the outside appears to be a mess and rotten to the core.
There appears to be a distinct lack of togetherness which has resulted in their continual failure to make an impact in the Ulster Championship.
Derry have persisted with a slow and ponderous game based on retaining possession by going across the pitch or backwards without any penetration.
Despite the regular appointment of managers every two to three years, Derry just seem to persist with this horrible style of football which is bringing them nowhere .
When contrasted with Tyrone, they could not be further apart on the scale.
Tyrone have built a system of play over last couple of years and they have been adapting to the change in modern day football tactics.
They look more disciplined this year. It appears their aggression is more controlled and channelled in the right way, rather than some of the silly goading and play-acting that was evident last year in the championship.
Most importantly for the tougher challenges ahead, it is clearly evident that Tyrone are very well coached team with phenomenal fitness levels.
Bigger tests do lie ahead, no doubt, but the foundations are there for serious a championship run and they have a system that will trouble any team.
Whilst their performance last Sunday will be compared to that of Donegal’s performance last year when they eclipsed Armagh , there is one distinct difference. Tyrone are a young, fresh, hungry team at a different stage of their development overseen by one of the best tactical minds in Gaelic games.
Tyrone’s next opponent will be decided this Sunday in Breffni Park.
Cavan come into this game as favourites having shown good form in progressing to Division 1 of the Allianz National League.
The common theme between Tyrone and Cavan is how their game-plans have evolved over the last two years.
The development of a game-plan can take time where patience is required from inside and outside the dressing-room.
Donegal are the perfect most recent example when they came with a defensive system in 2011 that evolved and added a transitional attacking system to go on and win the All Ireland in 2012.
Whilst Terry Hyland is entering his fifth championship campaign as manager of Cavan, it finally appears that they are beginning to find the right formula and balance between defence and attack.
The knife’s were out for Hyland last year after his team appeared to have become stagnant and rudderless.
League football can sometimes trick the mind-set and the real progress of Cavan will only be measured in the weeks ahead.
They look to have the quality up front with Gearóid Mc Kiernan at centre-forward combining well with David Givney and a resurgent Seánie Johnston in the full-forward line.
They face a young Armagh team who could be burdened by the expectation that their manager Kieran McGeeney brings.
The immediate expectation of success, following his appointment for five years in 2014, were far fetched.
As eluded too it takes time to develop and to compete with the big boys to become a top-eight team.
McGeeney is on the clock and signs of moving in the right direction must come soon after a very poor 2015 championship campaign.
That could start with an ambush in Breffni Park on Sunday afternoon but Cavan on home turf may just have too much firepower.