Tuesday 24 April 2018

Comment: Tyrone are the best prepared Ulster team ever sent to Croke Park - but Dublin have one crucial advantage

11 February 2017; James McCarthy of Dublin in action against Justin McMahon, left, and Rory Brennan of Tyrone during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 match between Dublin and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
11 February 2017; James McCarthy of Dublin in action against Justin McMahon, left, and Rory Brennan of Tyrone during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 match between Dublin and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

A couple of winters back, myself and another flamboyant columnist of this newspaper found ourselves at The Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, our fine posteriors wedged in between Mickey Harte and his selector Gavin Devlin on one side, Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter and a delegation of players the other.

My fellow columnist chose to use the wine glass on his left hand side which put in train a ripple effect, with Harte momentarily confused as he had no available glass for his water.

Graciously, all he would say on the matter was, "That's unusual," making a mental note that if he should find himself in Ballymena for a dinner party, they do things differently up there.

Conversation got going between Crusaders custodian Sean O'Neill - a former Antrim goalkeeper - and Harte over training in Gaelic football.

Harte was keen to know how much analysis Crusaders put into video analysis. O'Neill's response that they might look at the footage of the goals and have a brief discussion seemed to underwhelm Harte.

O'Neill sensed it and asked how much video work Tyrone do. His eyes spun in his head as Harte detailed how many cameras are used to analyse Tyrone performances. How many GPS trackers. The positions the cameras are placed in and the reasons for that.

And then the kicker. How many games would that be the case for? asked O'Neill.

There was an awkward pause before Harte answered. "Every training session." Cough. Change of subject. The beef's nice, eh? Shame about the spuds.

This Sunday, Tyrone might well be the best-resourced and prepared side to leave Ulster for an All-Ireland semi-final.

The work that goes into all of this is staggering. Last week, Tyrone people packed into the Irish Centre in Camden for the launch of the London chapter of Club Tyrone, the fundraising wing of the county board.

Peter Canavan and Owen Mulligan were in attendance to lend some stardust to the thing, as was Harte.

In 2013, Mulligan won an All-Ireland club title with Cookstown. He thought he might get a call back into the Tyrone panel, but it never happened. He spoke on Monday of how "Ruthless" his former manager can be.

There are no hard feelings. Harte attended the book launch of Mulligan's autobiography a while back so they had a chat when they met in London.

"Talking to him on Monday night, I've never heard him like that, even as a player," said Mulligan.

"I think some of the training they do, hearing different stories and still keeping in contact with ex-players, some of the training they're doing, it's player-driven. It's not him. They want to get out on the pitch. You only have to look at the team. They're full of lung busters. Up and down the field, the way they play. They've exceptional fitness.

"He said at Club Tyrone, it's the most committed bunch he's ever managed and he looked at Peter Canavan and said that's including Peter Canavan's team.

"That was the team I was in and there was a few rule breakers, including myself! He said he doesn't have to mention alcohol. Players are scared of falling behind other players if they go on the beer. He said they're the most professional bunch he's ever managed."

Harte has evidently reached a sweet spot with this panel now. In recent years, former players such as Ryan McMenamin and Canavan have told anecdotes about how players were encouraged to figure things out for themselves on the pitch, rather than looking nervously towards the line for guidance. 

Take all that confidence and trouble-shooting ability, as well as preparation and investment, and it may still not be enough to beat Dublin this Sunday.

There are dozens of theories out there. Tyrone are under-cooked. Not tested. Croke Park factor. Dublin are under-cooked. Not tested. Blah-blah.

Most of them are unworthy of consideration and, truth be told in an era when there are a dozen cameras on a training session in Garvaghey which will then be pored over by management, punditry have not kept pace with a sport developing at a dizzying pace.

What does not change is the crucial ability of players to make the right decision under pressure and in a state of fatigue.

When it comes to tactical switches, Harte has often been an innovator but not beyond being trumped. He knows more than most the importance of starting with one side and finishing with another.

As the game approaches the 50 minute mark, Dublin have developed the sophistication to play two games within one. They reach that mark, unleash the bench and start all over again.

Assuming Jim Gavin starts the same side against Monaghan, then he can send on two former Footballers of the Year in Bernard Brogan and Michael Darragh Macauley, as well as Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn.

Tyrone don't have that depth.

And that's going to be the difference.

What does any of this serve?

CASTING an eye down the recent Club Player's Association survey results raises a couple of questions.

Launched to great effect in early January, a traditionally fallow time for GAA journalists, over 25,000 people signed up online to be counted as CPA members. Their efforts have so far been stymied by the GAA, who pressed ahead with competitions reforms that ran contrary to the feelings of the CPA membership.

At this current impasse, it appears frustration is at the root of their recently conducted survey, of which they claim to have received 3,200 replies.

Allowing for the fact that respondents are more likely to feel in militant mood about the unfair lot of the club player, the questions asked were moist definitely leading. Such as 'Have you ever considered walking away from the game because of the lack of a definitive fixture calendar at club level?' (60% said yes).

And 92% responded that they are not willing to wait until 2020 for change to happen to the current club fixture situation.

It is my belief that a hell of a lot more apathy exists within the playing population. But what the CPA is trying to establish is better practise. For this they should be applauded and supported.

Last weekend was the perfect illustration of how dysfunctional fixture making currently is. Derry under-21 hurlers were beaten by 52 points by Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi-final.

This game is hosted at a time when players in Derry are tuned into the club football Championship. With two hurling Championship games fixed for Monday night past, there is a chance that a few players also effectively downed tools during the match, in order to avoid injury for their club.

Last January, the incoming Ulster Secretary Brian McAvoy said to this writer, "We have to think about what happens in minor and under-21 provincial championships because there is no point going down year after year for a ritual slaughter. I know Antrim beat Wexford a few years ago but they lost the final by 22 points.

"I just don't see the point at the minute of that continuing."

The promise of the CPA on the day of their initial launch still rings true. There is a serious need to 'fix the fixtures.'

Belfast Telegraph

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