Sunday 18 March 2018

Joe Brolly: Tyrone won't have the pace or the skill advantage in semi-final with Dublin

'Before throw-in I asked a Tyrone man beside me for a look at his programme. “Take it Joe,” he said, “I only got it to see who the ref is. Armagh have no chance.”' Photo: Sportsfile
'Before throw-in I asked a Tyrone man beside me for a look at his programme. “Take it Joe,” he said, “I only got it to see who the ref is. Armagh have no chance.”' Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Brolly

It couldn't have been any easier for either Dublin or Tyrone yesterday if the GAA had given them a bye into the semi-final. The day began in a welter of boredom. Before throw-in I asked a Tyrone man beside me for a look at his programme. "Take it Joe," he said, "I only got it to see who the ref is. Armagh have no chance."

Tyrone set up with their normal template. The first eight Armagh forays into the Tyrone half ended as follows: a turnover, a speculative long-range kick into the 'keeper's hands, a wide from an impossible shot, a turnover, a wide from a speculative long-range hoof, a turnover and a turnover. That brought us to 15 minutes, with the score reading Tyrone 1-5, Armagh 0-0.

I remembered the old nursery rhyme, "Won't you come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly?" Armagh obliged, stepping hesitantly into the Tyrone web and becoming instantly stuck. Over a long, long 74 minutes, Tyrone patiently consumed them whole.

Armagh abandoned their system of play entirely and attempted to mirror Tyrone. In the event, Jamie Clarke was left to work miracles, which isn't a recognisable strategy. At one point in the first half, he almost performed one. Starting with a bewildering dummy of Cathal McCarron, who fell on his arse with surprise, Clarke weaved through the massed Tyrone defence and was briefly through on goal before slipping. Bloody U2.

Tyrone make Croke Park look very small. When they lose possession they keep only one forward in position, merely to keep manners on the full-back and tie up a covering player. The other 13 outfielders take up their positions inside their own half, with four players strung along the front line of the defence shepherding the opponent into the web.

When they are attacking, an aerial view from a balloon would show three covering players stretched out across the middle third, with the inside forward man marked. As soon as the ball is lost, there is a quick but composed retreat into the defensive shape.

With the game over so early, the only real excitement came in the second half when Tiernan McCann went down and for a second, the Tyrone crowd worried his hair had been spoiled. A wash and blow dry in Cute Curls in Killyclogher costs nearly £15.

The game was virtually identical to their three shut-outs in Ulster, where their defensive system and absolute discipline in the tackle allowed them to steadily build a lead, then run riot in the final quarter when the opponent had long since given up. Young David Mulgrew poached two beautiful goals, one off either foot, to give the purists something to savour. In fairness to the Ardboe men, they have always been purveyors of skill. Big Frank McGuigan will be happy with his young protégé.

Tyrone are very fast, very strong, and defensively superb. The big difference this year is the pace of the counter-attacking runners. Armagh couldn't cope with an attacking system that has only one forward playing inside, with the scorers running from deep and using the width of the pitch. As a result, Tyrone were entirely relaxed throughout. But there are no more Division 3 teams left.

Monaghan are not a Division 3 team but it scarcely mattered to Dublin.

A man in his 70s from the Monaghan Harps club was sitting behind us. He was one of those fresh-faced clean-cut men you see at rural mass taking the sacrament. Not long after the throw-in he started. "That is fucking desperate Monaghan. For fuck sake would you kick it in!"

A younger man beside him, who I took to be his son, pointed out that there was no one for him to kick it in to. "That fucking Malachy O'Rourke has his tactics all wrong."

And so it continued for around 10 minutes until he, like everyone else, lost interest.

The Dubs showed how to deal with a blanket defence. They swamped the Monaghan defensive area when they attacked. They kept the defenders constantly on the move, turning, sprinting and generally unsettling them. On their part they kept just one sweeper - Cian O'Sullivan - stationed in front of Monaghan's lone full-forward. They kept at least two men in the half-back line when they attacked. When the Monaghan runners counter-attacked, they were quickly picked up and marked.

Tyrone will have no pace advantage against them in the semi-final. Nor will they have an advantage in skill.

And when Dublin were not coming in waves through the blanket, working in perfect tandem, they were quite happy to hold possession, moving the ball around the blanket, patiently probing. In their last play of the first half, they moved the ball left and right, with the fist and foot around the Monaghan zone, keeping them moving. Having held the ball for two minutes seven seconds, they suddenly sent James McCarthy through for a point.

They moved the ball short and long. For their goal in the 38th minute, they kicked a long free into the 21. Paddy Andrews won it and broke through on goal, only for the referee to bring it back to be retaken. It was a mere dress rehearsal. They repeated the trick and this time they were allowed to continue until the ball was in the net.

Paul Mannion was terrific. Their defending was crisp and hard. They harried Monaghan relentlessly all over the field. But Bernard Brogan looks as though his five-point cameo in the Leinster final was the finale to his epic career. Paddy Andrews likewise is on a downward spiral.

There are imponderables but on the whole, they are in great shape.

On a day where both Dublin and Tyrone were killing time, Dublin continue to look like champions through and through.

Sunday Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport