Sunday 25 August 2019

Dick Clerkin: 'Reborn Tyrone firmly back in contention for the All-Ireland'

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte shakes hands with Cian O'Neill after the Kildare boss' defeat to the Red Hand. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte shakes hands with Cian O'Neill after the Kildare boss' defeat to the Red Hand. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

You're only as good as your last game - is a truism that was surely invented for the GAA Championship.

Three weeks ago Tyrone limped out of the Ulster Championship following a meek performance against pace-setters Donegal, and their stock value as All Ireland contenders plummeted.

This morning they are in the bowl for the final qualifier stage as realistic challengers again - and the team everyone will want to avoid - following a clinical performance against Kildare in a sun-kissed Newbridge on Saturday evening.

Writing in these pages after their Ulster semi-final no-show I commented on how their performance smacked of complacency and petulance. A combination of ill-discipline and flat-footedness were visible symptoms of both.

A man of intense faith, Mickey Harte has evidently served penance on his players in the proceeding weeks. They looked sharp and focused on Saturday evening from the throw-in to the final whistle.

With no signs of the mental afflictions that saw them unravel in Breffni Park, they looked a class apart from their midland opponents throughout.

So what was the difference?

In the commentary box for Sky Sports, I had a bird's eye view of their impressive display. Firstly, their discipline was first class throughout. Both in terms of the players carrying out their individual roles, and a complete absence of any of the unsightly antics that has blighted many of their performances in recent years.

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Disciplined in the tackle, they didn't give Kildare room to breathe when they entered the scoring zone. Kevin Feely's well-constructed goal towards the end of the second half was an isolated breach of the Tyrone rear-guard who were generally resolute throughout, with Ronan McNamee particularly impressive.

In midfield, Colm Cavanagh showed signs that he is coming back to form at the right time, after an out-of-sorts performance against Donegal.

Dropping back into his customary position in the D when required, he provided extra cover to blot out the inside scoring threats of Adam Tyrrell, Ben McCormack and Neil Flynn. That the aforementioned trio only contributed two points from play between them tells its own story.

On their own restarts, Niall Morgan mixed distance and accuracy as required to launch attacks with an efficiency that counterpart Mark Donnellan failed to replicate.

Accomplished from midfield back, it was in attack however that Tyrone showed their greatest improvement.

Against Donegal they were very sluggish in possession, and failed to move the ball with any sustained urgency or conviction.

From the outset in Newbridge they moved the ball at a pace Kildare never came to grips with. Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte turned in massive shifts, and were the most influential players around the middle third.

Overall as an attacking unit they were clinical in possession, and accurate in front of goal. Finishing with 2-16 from play and nine different scorers is as good an attacking day's work Mickey Harte could have asked for.

As Tyrone are talked up again as potential All Ireland contenders, I urge that you dismiss anyone saying that Tyrone simply reverted to type against Kildare. Anyone with lazy talk about a simplistic blanket defence and one-dimensional running game is either simply anti-Tyrone or out of their depth as an analyst.

Cathal McShane's emergence at full-forward marks a significant tactical departure for Tyrone compared to seasons past. His transformation into a seriously accomplished full-forward is a significant achievement by Mickey Harte and his coaching staff.

In his formative years, McShane was your archetypal wing half-forward - hard running, assured in possession, with an eye for the occasional score. I would never have ear-marked him as a top-level full-forward. Shorn of a physically reliable full-forward in recent seasons, Harte and Co have gotten to work, conditioning McShane to become Tyrone's point of attack. Walking into the ground I met Tyrone legend and current backroom team member Stephen O'Neill.

Watching McShane's movement from my vantage point, you can see a player that has clearly benefited from the tutelage of a great of yesteryear.

Keeping his position across the full-forward line, McShane offers himself up as an outlet at every opportunity with selfless runs left and right of the goals.

Full-forward can be a lonely place for the best of them these days, but McShane maintained his shape and energy throughout against Kildare.

Finishing with five points, three from play, he unselfishly played provider when closed down himself.

He may be only one player, and it may be only one obvious tactical shift, but if Tyrone can maintain their sharpness and discipline further out the field, McShane's continued form will significantly enhance their credentials as the summer progresses.

Irish Independent

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