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Harte's operating system has rebooted Tyrone


The role of Colm Cavanagh is a vital cog in Tyrone’s new system

The role of Colm Cavanagh is a vital cog in Tyrone’s new system

The role of Colm Cavanagh is a vital cog in Tyrone’s new system

Nowadays you don't come across a match report or an analysis piece without reference to defensive structures or blanket defences. Gaelic football has evolved radically in the last 15 years to the point that modern-day positions of half-back or corner-forward are nothing more now than a title.

Tyrone were the first team to radicalise their game plan in the noughties and it delivered three All-Irelands. Kerry were mainly the victims of that defensive model, and Kerry, being the aristocrats of pure football, struggled with the thought process that a defensive game plan was a winning template.

Pat Gilroy followed suit with Dublin after our 2009 defeat to Kerry and it took Dublin two years to change the culture of attacking football.

Meanwhile, Jim Mc Guinness was plotting with Donegal to push the defensive game to its maximum in terms of defensive detail, the levels of preparation required and the fitness levels needed to survive his innovative game plan.

Five years on and now most teams have followed suit in some shape or form.

Sweepers, double sweepers, the centre back dropping off his man, the midfielders dropping deep have all now become key aspects of football across every team, club and county.

It is easy to sit on the ditch and criticise managers for implementing defensive tactics or this style of football, because it's poor on the eye in terms of entertainment.

However, there is not one top team contending for provincial or All-Ireland honours that does not have a clear defensive strategy in place to protect the main scoring zone. The reality is that an effective defensive system will work if it is coached repetitively and implemented by the right sort of players.

The problem with a lot of teams nowadays is that managers are putting square pegs into round holes, with many teams playing with poor defensive structures that will collapse under the first sign of pressure.

Sligo, Armagh, Derry and Down are a few of the teams badly exposed with poor systems in recent weeks.

On the other end of the scale is another construction project by Mickey Harte ,who has developed the foundations of a solid game plan with a fresh new team in Tyrone.

Tyrone are realistic contenders for Sam Maguire and whilst it is easy to point to the fact that they have been operating in Division 2 all year, the more obvious observation is that they very nearly made it to last year's All-Ireland final, pushing Kerry all the way.

Harte has built a system of play with a team that has all the raw ingredients to get better and better as the year progresses.

Their game plan is built around their positioning when they lose possession and their immediate change of strategy once they win possession. It is the quickness of thought, their massive fitness levels and meticulous preparation to the finest detail that ensures every player knows exactly what they need to do depending on whom has the ball at any given time.

The role of Colm Cavanagh, the interchange between the half-forwards and half-backs and the link play from Mattie Donnelly and Seán Cavanagh allows Tyrone to dictate any game they play in.


The biggest improvement I have noticed in Tyrone is their speed of attack. Every pass on the counter-attack coming from defence will have forward momentum behind it. It is obviously a key aspect of their training games where lateral or backward passes in their own half of the field are outlawed. The ball must have forward momentum and the receiver must be ahead of the play.

This system of play more often than not puts them on the front foot when executed properly and it is extremely difficult for teams to play against. If Cavan are to beat Tyrone and avoid a repeat of the Allianz League Division two final, they cannot rely on kicking 15 or 16 points from distance. In the league final there were glitches of light for Cavan when they opened up the Tyrone defence on one or two occasions with some directly supported running moves from the half-forward line.

Cavan also cannot afford to leave Seanie Johnston and David Givney up front behind a Tyrone defensive line and make them redundant. They need to come out and provide options with good running lines to support their half-forwards that will allow access to the Tyrone scoring zone.

The Cavan management team will need to make brave decisions next Sunday. Their objective must be not to let Tyrone dictate the game. Why not push a man up on Colm Cavanagh for a period of the game when he retreats to the defence when Tyrone lose possession and see if it can open up more opportunities for their forwards.

Cavan have been impressive all year and for periods against Armagh they looked well organised and dangerous going forward. The expectation is that Tyrone will win, which could provide the perfect tonic for Cavan to play without fear and take the game to Tyrone. Something tells me, though, the Tyrone system will still win out and they will march on to an Ulster final.