Wednesday 17 January 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Dubs have too much class to fall for Tyrone ambush

Pádraig Hampsey has come from nowhere to be a vital cog in the Tyrone machine. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Pádraig Hampsey has come from nowhere to be a vital cog in the Tyrone machine. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

When the championship draws were made last November you did not have to be a genius to figure out that this day was coming - and it has come without any major fuss.

Tyrone are a long way ahead in Ulster, at least partially due to the others being poor, while Dublin have adopted a scorched-earth policy in Leinster. Nobody else is within an ass's roar of the all-conquering Dubs. They could probably put out a second or third team and still win the provincial title. This is a sad reflection on Meath and Kildare, especially as they should be much more competitive, even allowing for the fact that this is a great Dublin team by any standards, past or present.

This is the match of the year. It is a contrast in styles. Dublin may not have the gung-ho attack of the past but they are at their best when flowing forward. They will attempt to put pressure on Tyrone high up the pitch when they lose the ball - a bit like Barcelona - and they will put serious pressure on the Tyrone defenders in possession.

When Tyrone don't have the ball they will retreat into their Roman phalanx, the only thing missing will be the shields. This is a highly organised defensive system where everybody knows their job and they eventually wear down almost all opponents.

If they can force Dublin to play over and back across the pitch 50 metres out then they are on their way to the All-Ireland final. They have performed these sort of coups on plenty of good teams over the last 15 years in Croke Park and have the resolve, patience and skill to do so again unless Dublin are at their best.

Dublin will have worked hard on not getting caught in the spider's web that the Tyrone defence presents. To do so they will keep on the move.

A player who gives the ball off will keep running ahead to try and drag defenders around and create a bit of space for others. The Dubs are therefore different to most teams that Tyrone play. The likes of James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper, Philly McMahon or Jack McCaffrey could end up with goal chances because they won't stop running forward even after giving off the ball.

This is Dublin's greatest strength but it is sometimes their Achilles heel too. As they attack in waves they sometimes leave themselves short at the back, even allowing for the sweeper. The lesson of the Donegal defeat still rankles and they rarely leave themselves that exposed. But they still really go for it in every game and this will be no different. Tyrone will be much more measured. If they lose the ball up the field they will often turn their back on the play and sprint back into their designated defensive positions.

It would be interesting then to have witnessed the preparation for this game. Often teams who play Tyrone talk about having practised moves against eight or nine backs in their training games but in reality nothing prepares a team for Tyrone. Not only have they defending down to an art form, but the attacking side of their play has improved dramatically since losing to Mayo last year and has even taken a significant step forward again during this championship.

When I saw Tyrone hammer Donegal I thought the opposition on the day froze, but Tyrone have throttled everyone else in the same way. The form line of Derry, Donegal, Down and Armagh is hardly very good but it does show a Tyrone team in rude health.

When Tyrone defend they will often leave the smallest man, Darren McCurry, as the only attacker upfield. But the fifth cavalry arrive to help him in the shape of Tiernan McCann, Peter Harte and Pádraig Hampsey, who has come from nowhere to be a vital cog in the Tyrone machine. Hampsey is both a defender and scorer, similar to most of the Tyrone team, where the style of play puts enormous demands on the players' running power. This continuous sprinting from defence to attack and back again is more difficult to do in Croke Park where everything seems to happen that bit quicker.

The ball travels faster than the man was the motto of the old-timers who detested soloing. They wanted to see the ball kicked long. That long kicking is a bigger part of the Dublin game than Tyrone's and the Dubs will hope that there will be plenty of occasions when their accurate kicking will ensure that the Tyrone snare has not had time to be set. By contrast, Tyrone will almost exclusively use handpasses to move the ball upfield. It has been effective to date but the Dubs could do a Tyrone on Tyrone by having a massed defence waiting for them.

The kick-out as always will be vital. On occasions, Tyrone give up the kick-out to ensure they have their backs set up in that formation, which immediately on getting the ball back, becomes fluid. Dublin will surely try to win ball at source and disrupt Niall Morgan, forcing him to kick long. Colm Cavanagh and Conal McCann should be well able to compete in the air and Seán Cavanagh and Mattie Donnelly will be the players who Tyrone want in possession around midfield as they will direct the attacks.

The Dubs will set up with Cian O'Sullivan as the sheriff at the gate. He will sit in front of the full-back line and no matter who goes forward he will resist the temptation to join in. It is one simple decision in placement and role which has yielded such riches for Dublin. The performance and style is built on the foundation of a man on the gate at all times.

The two most influential players on the Dublin team at present are probably Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Fenton and Tyrone will man-mark those two in the hope of reducing the number of possessions gained and the way they then set up attacks. The Dubs will have to score from play too as Tyrone have shown that they give away very few frees in the scoring zone. They won't mind fouling out the country to slow down the attack but there are few soft frees inside the D. As a result, Dean Rock will have to earn his corn from play and Paul Mannion also needs a big day. The likelihood too is that Diarmuid Connolly will make an appearance at some stage; the roar from the Dubs supporters will be heard around Dungannon as there is nothing like a sense of injustice to stir the crowd. He is the ultimate impact sub.

Tyrone have taken a chance on David Mulgrew, who looked a class act against Armagh, but the war was over when he joined in. It will be a million miles different today and while there was time and space against Armagh there will be neither commodity in the first half against the Dubs. The decline in that particular rivalry was all too evident. Last week, I saw a replay of Armagh v Tyrone in 2005 when Peter Canavan kicked the late winner in the semi-final; it was as good a game of manly football as was ever played.

Today Tyrone try to get back to the heights of the greats of the past, the Dubs simply want to go marching on. Dublin will attack flat out from the start and will hope to be ahead early on as it will force Tyrone out of their shell and leave more room for their forwards. Tyrone did not respond well last year when Mayo got in front of them in the second half but they have learned a lot from that and this Tyrone side is a different animal to that which lost 12 months ago.

I was at the league match between these two in Croke Park earlier in the year. It was a great match in very difficult conditions and the Dubs have had a problem with beating Tyrone recently. This match, though, will be a completely different contest and the pace will be ferocious. Ultimately, when teams are as highly organised as these two, the best individual players will decide the game. To me, Dublin have more quality players, even if their bench may not have much of an advantage over Tyrone, which has contributed a lot of late scores to their wins. Yet there is a lot of class to Dublin. They can also play fast and loose or whatever way the opposition throw it at them. Dublin for the final.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport