Thursday 29 September 2016

Tyrone show how good they can be when they focus on football

Published 07/03/2016 | 02:30

Tyrone's Colm Cavanagh Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Tyrone's Colm Cavanagh Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Watching the Tyrone-Derry game on Saturday night was very interesting because it showed what it could be like between these two counties if they concentrated more on playing football than settling old scores or dominating that horrible euphemism, 'the physical stakes'.

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It was obvious from early on that the minds of players and management, even though they may not have deliberately thought so, were more on their Ulster Championship game in May than on a freezing cold night in March.

There were no bust-ups, no straight red cards, no serious verbal abuse - we watched a good game of football devoid of what people outside the province usually refer to as 'typical Ulster fare'.

I have watched big games in Ulster in each of the nine counties many times over 40 years and had never seen much difference between the game as played Ulster and any place in Ireland.

But that all changed when the 21st century arrived and suddenly the style and quality of the game there took a very different direction. By coincidence this change of style resulted in four All-Irelands coming to Tyrone and Armagh so it was a style that became the norm in the province in the hope of emulating those great victories.

It was not pretty to watch because of the often rancorous exchanges that tended to dominate but most Ulster counties seemed to think this was the new way forward if you wanted to win All-Irelands and they may be correct about that.

And the Ulster football philosophy has certainly influenced how the game is played in places far away from that province.

Saturday's game was easily won by Tyrone because they were far cleverer in their use of possession, had far better forwards and because they have perfected their style of possession game, backed up with lightning darts upfield that Derry were totally unable to match.

Why Derry continually tried to short-pass their way through the Tyrone backline, augmented by Colm Cavanagh (left) and others, is a mystery. They have time to change their ways before May 22 when they meet again, but will they?

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