Saturday 20 October 2018

Comment: Despite pre-match talk, Tyrone too one-dimensional going forward

Tyrone’s management triumvirate of Mickey Harte, assistant manager Gavin Devlin and selector Stephen O’Neill have a lot of work on their plate. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tyrone’s management triumvirate of Mickey Harte, assistant manager Gavin Devlin and selector Stephen O’Neill have a lot of work on their plate. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

After last year's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin, it was generally accepted that Tyrone would have to change their approach to win. Adapt or die.

Going into that showdown with the Dubs, it was predicted that the All-Ireland champions would meet a defensive system that had been perfected to a level they had not previously met and had the potential to frustrate them.

On top of that Tyrone had the athleticism and the footballers to hurt Dublin at the other end. At the very least, they'd run Dublin close while many in the county felt Mickey Harte had got the blend just right as the unstoppable force and the immovable object were set to collide.

As it played out, the collision was over as soon as Con O'Callaghan broke clear of the cover to score a goal after just five minutes.

It was a galling defeat and prompted much talk in Tyrone and beyond about how the county would have to change their approach. Defensive stability is fine but it needed to be married with a more cutting edge.

It appeared that Harte agreed with the sentiment when Stephen O'Neill, a brilliant attacker in his day, was brought in to help. It felt like a sign that Tyrone would be much more forward-thinking going into 2018.

Cathal McShane (No. 10) leads a group of dejected Tyrone players off Healy Park after Sunday’s Ulster SFC defeat to Monaghan. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Cathal McShane (No. 10) leads a group of dejected Tyrone players off Healy Park after Sunday’s Ulster SFC defeat to Monaghan. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Last weekend, former Tyrone hero Peter Canavan illustrated in these pages how they had a renewed emphasis on attack during the league. Essentially, the new-look Red Hand had removed a sweeper and committed that body to attack.

Mark Bradley had often ploughed a lone furrow in attack in 2017 but this time, Lee Brennan was on hand to offer a new threat as well as having the support from the likes of Niall Sludden and Co.

But on Sunday afternoon in Omagh, there was precious little evidence of their new approach. In the close season Conor McManus spoke about how Monaghan too would have to be more adventurous if they were to truly challenge the top teams in championship.

However, both teams seemed happy to mirror each other and force the other to blink first.

Early on, Tyrone's most advanced players of Brennan, Connor McAliskey and Bradley caused Monaghan a few problems as they opened up a 0-5 to 0-2 lead after 10 minutes.

That avenue soon dried up. Both teams would commit bodies to attack but were cautious in possession, knowing they were vulnerable if they turned over the ball.  

The first half felt more like a game of chess. Holding on to possession rather than supplying the inside men looked to be the preferred tactic.

The traffic in both defensive halves was such that even McManus, who has made a career out of finding space in the tighest defences, struggled to influence the game.

As Harte pointed out, Tyrone's options had been limited by circumstance.

"Colm (Cavanagh) had to come out at half-time, Tiernan McCann was not as sharp as we know he can be and you could see that he had not played enough games at this level as he needed to, while Lee Brennan was recovering from a hamstring injury so those were substitutions we would not normally be making.

"That left us with less of a free hand to do things that we might have done in terms of the bench."

Still, there were only small hints that Tyrone had changed their approach.

At one stage in the second half, they had kicked just two wides; they were struggling to get their shooters on the ball.

They also introduced Ronan O'Neill, only to remove the Omagh man before the final whistle, much to his chagrin.

It's likely their approach was dictated on some level by the approach taken by Monaghan. And McAliskey, the Tyrone attacker to emerge with the most credit from Sunday, believes his side are unfairly labelled as defensive.

"We said this before, it seems to be something that's branded on Tyrone. Everyone talks about the ultra-attacking football Dublin play but if you watch them closely, they bring a lot of men back.

"It's a team game. Every man has to work when you don't have the ball. We're branded as ultra-defensive but I thought today we had a lot of men up the field.

"I thought it was an open game of football (against Dublin), I think we're getting branded wrongly."

Tyrone have plenty to go on. They were level on 65 minutes against a Monaghan team that beat Dublin on its last competitive outing.

They will still be better than most of the teams they are likely to meet in the back door and could find their way back to the 'Super 8s' and face Monaghan again. Those games will give them a chance to work on a different approach.

But given that it's only a year since Harte experimented with deploying Mattie Donnelly and Sean Cavanagh in the full-forward line in a bid to add some brawn, Tyrone still have work to do to unlock their full potential.

Irish Independent

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