Sunday 21 July 2019

Away-day Blues can spoil Tyrone's home comforts

Tyrone's Mickey Harte. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Tyrone's Mickey Harte. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

When, after 12 years, Dublin finally have to play a championship game on the opposition's home ground, they certainly drew one of the shortest straws.

It's not that Tyrone's record in Omagh is especially good but, at the same time, nothing will stir their spirit like 'welcoming' the All-Ireland champions to Healy Park this evening.

Mickey Harte and his men had their very core shaken mercilessly by Dublin in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, leaving them with a long winter of regret. Losing was one thing, but being beaten by 12 points - their biggest championship defeat for 20 years - took the pain into the excruciating zone.

Now they have a chance to show that it was something of a freak, a day when they were competent nowhere and Dublin thrived everywhere.

Nothing has changed since then to suggest that Tyrone have completely closed the gap with Dublin, but they have done enough to restore a fair degree of confidence.

Their phenomenally high strike rate will have attracted the attention of Jim Gavin at a time when there are question marks around his defence.

They weren't tested in Leinster but Donegal scored 16 points, a yield that might well have nudged towards 20 if Paddy McBrearty were playing.

Niall Sludden apart, the Tyrone attack don't look especially formidable on an individual basis but the collective is highly efficient as Roscommon and Cork can testify. And even when they lost to Monaghan in the Ulster quarter-final, they still managed to score 1-16.

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Dublin's keep-ball approach in the closing stages of the Donegal game looked like a rehearsal for this evening's game, which they will try to dominate by possession retention and quick, incisive breaks. No team does that combination better, as a whole series of opponents have experienced over several seasons. Dublin's attacking power remains among the highest in championship history but, as Mayo repeatedly demonstrated, it can be short-circuited to some degree by an aggressive approach.

Tyrone's lack of physicality was one of the major surprises in last year's semi-final.

They frequently stood off, as if marking space rather than opponents, which allowed Dublin to weave their pretty patterns and run up a 2-17 total.

Tyrone will bring a lot more intensity to their game this time in an attempt to rattle Dublin. It's vital that they maintain that all the way if they are to give themselves a chance to winning because if Dublin are allowed to set the agenda, they will make it count.

The big question is whether Tyrone can unsettle Dublin to the degree necessary to beat them. The answer is probably 'no'.

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