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Joe Brolly: Tyrone's manager for life is blinded by his own system


‘I have watched the game three times and the absence of any method of moving the ball from defence to attack is striking’. Photo: Sportsfile

‘I have watched the game three times and the absence of any method of moving the ball from defence to attack is striking’. Photo: Sportsfile

‘I have watched the game three times and the absence of any method of moving the ball from defence to attack is striking’. Photo: Sportsfile

Mickey Harte, manager for life, said after the game last Sunday that Tyrone lost because of the Monaghan goal just before half-time. It was "the critical moment," he said. "Ultimately, the goal and point before half-time was the winning of the game."

He went on to say that Monaghan had players up front with that "bit of gold dust". Nothing is ever the fault of Tyrone's manager for life.

His defence of the system of play and his explanation for the Monaghan defeat sounded uncannily like his remarks after Dublin annihilated his players last August, which again had nothing to do with the manager for life. Reflecting on the game in an Irish Times interview in January, he said the Dublin goal was the critical moment in the game. He blamed a) the referee: "The referee got a little bit in the way of Pádraig Hampsey", b) Con O'Callaghan: "Con was supposed to be marking Pádraig Hampsey and didn't follow him" and c) Con O'Callaghan again: "Con got his goal in a way I wouldn't like - by not being an honest broker and going after his man as he should have."

In the circumstances, the fact that the goal was scored with just 65 minutes and 25 seconds of normal time left is irrelevant. No manager can be held responsible when a vital goal is scored with so little time remaining.

Before last Sunday's game, Sean Cavanagh dared to strongly criticise the manager for life's system of play, saying that it had damaged the careers of some of Tyrone's most talented forwards, causing many to leave the panel and leaving those who stayed frustrated and demoralised. He also described the manager for life as "autocratic", a description which will have shocked all right-thinking people.

Then, on Sunday, a funny thing happened. Colm Cavanagh, who appeared to be going strong, was substituted. This was obviously a coincidence, even if some ungrateful sections of the Tyrone support raised their eyebrows and suggested that it would have been better if Sean had kept his mouth shut until Colm retired. However, Sean - with his first book soon to be appearing on the shelves - is clearly not going to be silenced any longer. Straight after the game, he did an interview with the RTE infidel (throw holy water on the wireless and say three decades of the rosary) where he trenchantly questioned why his brother had been replaced. He said that Colm would have "liked to have stayed on" and that "in a game in which leaders were going to decide the game, Colm being substituted was a huge blow to the team."

It is a long time since I have seen a Tyrone team look so demoralised in an Ulster championship game. The final margin was two points, but this didn't fool the players or the Tyrone supporters. Healy Park was a very subdued place for most of the game, with Tyrone clueless going forward and making precisely the same strategic blunders that were highlighted in Dublin's lucky win over them last August. The margin of defeat could easily have been nine or 10 points. Fintan Kelly should have hit the net from a yard out but Niall Morgan (who should have been sent off) got his fingertips to it and deflected it onto the post. The Tyrone goal at the end was irrelevant and a fluke. Aside from a few good scores off the cuff from Connor McAliskey and Niall Sludden, Tyrone did not have any plausible plan of attack.

Against the Dubs last August, their system of zonal defending was badly exposed. This system had been rehearsed and polished over the previous four years. The players must have organised multiple secret training sessions to work on that, without the knowledge of the manager for life.

The problem Dublin exposed was that when you flood up on the Tyrone zone and get behind the first cordon of sweepers, no one knows who is marking who and chaos results. Malachy O'Rourke saw this and instructed his runners from the defence to attack at every opportunity and get in behind that static front row. So Fintan Kelly, Dessie Mone and Vinny Corey had a field day. Vinny in particular ran riot.

The Monaghan goal (not the manager's fault) is a classic illustration of the weakness of this system. Vinny came through the middle at the diagonal, unmarked, got inside the cover, took the pass, and from that point on it became a simple goal, as Tyrone players rushed to the man in possession like under 14s. Vinny, unmarked, drew the first defender and laid it off to Conor McManus, unmarked, who drew the covering player and slipped it back to Vinny to tap it into the empty net.

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Likewise, Fintan Kelly had a field day. His nominal marker was Peter Harte but since Peter marks space and not his opponent, Fintan was a free man. This confusion happened over and over again, caused by the system. As a result, Tyrone were never able to get a foothold in the game, and Monaghan were able to put up a big score.

Another flaw in the Tyrone system (shared by Galway) is that because they drop back into pre-ordained positions inside their own half, they do not put any pressure on their opponents in the middle third. As a result, just as Dublin did against Galway in the league and the league final, Monaghan were able to hold possession at their leisure, even when they were four and five points up. Tyrone, trapped in their rehearsed defensive zone, were reduced to mere spectators, the Tyrone supporters roaring at them to push up. Such ignorance.

I have been saying for five years that the myth of Tyrone having no forwards is caused by a system overwhelmingly weighted in favour of defence. Philip Jordan, who for years said exactly the same thing, complaining about the lack of any defence/attack balance, is suddenly criticising Sean Cavanagh and defending the manager for life. Jordan said last week on RTE (five Hail Marys and a Saturday morning doing community service) that his old team-mate is becoming a publicity whore like me. Whatever.

I have watched the game three times and the absence of any method of moving the ball from defence to attack and any workable attack plan is striking. In the entire game, Tyrone did not kick the ball once from defence to attack. Not once. With so many players behind the ball, not doing anything aside from pointing and guarding space, when they won possession they had no half-forward presence to move it to, therefore were forced to solo, hand-passing forwards, sideways and backways. By the time they reached the half-way line they were hitting a brick wall.

The hugely gifted Lee Brennan only ever got the ball running away from the goal, near the sideline, with no one coming off his shoulder. He was presumably instructed to perform miracles, though it looked as if he hadn't been instructed at all. Eventually he was taken off.

The equally talented Ronan O'Neill was brought on in the second half, then brought off without one ball having been given in his direction. As he passed the manager for life, he threw down his gloves in anger and said, "the ball never came near me." A fatwa is the only medicine for a boy like that.

Tyrone have deteriorated since last August. They were indisciplined and slack - a sure sign of a lack of confidence - had no idea how to attack with any precision, looked clueless and demoralised, and could easily have lost by nine or 10 points. How dare they treat the manager for life like this! How dare they!

And don't get me started on that bloody RTE . . .

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