Tuesday 24 April 2018

Eoin Liston: Stop the midfield maestro and you can stop Tyrone

Sean Cavanagh hopes to end their poor run against Meath
Sean Cavanagh hopes to end their poor run against Meath
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

The talk for much of the early stages of the championship was dominated by calls for wholesale changes to the format. While that still needs debate and analysis, nobody can argue that the business end of the summer is anything other than mouth-watering.

Monaghan stirred it into life, and now the quarter-final draw has football fans everywhere licking their lips. As a Kerry man, I was happy with Cavan coming out of the hat, but that's mainly because it meant avoiding the other three!

Monaghan showed last week what they are capable of and if they can come down from the highs of the Ulster final, they will take some beating. Their performance against Donegal was the best of the season so far, and based on the last few weeks Tyrone have serious improving to do. It's the game I'm most looking forward to over the Bank Holiday weekend.

My main concern surrounding Tyrone since the end of the league was their dependence on Sean Cavanagh. He was incredible again on Saturday against Meath. Mickey Harte described his performance as his best ever in the Tyrone jersey and it's hard to argue.

Respect

But I felt Meath gave him a little too much respect. Cavanagh plays around midfield but he has licence to roam. Such is his influence, a team should consider sacrificing their best defender to take on the role of tracking his every move. If you stop Sean, you go a long way to stopping Tyrone.

You could be harsh on Meath because they were naive at times but they have made huge strides this season. They are just missing a couple of players that would make them a really top team. Saturday did reflect the gulf between Divisions 1 and 3 in terms of the basic skill levels of the sides.

Time and time again, Meath did brilliantly to win the ball only to cheaply cough up the possession moments later. You simply can't do that in Croke Park and get away with it. Tyrone scored 0-9 from frees, and that's just far too much indiscipline.

The Ulster men's kick-passing was of a much higher standard. They were more composed under pressure. They always play to a definite system and they are experts at implementing it, knowing when to get their men back and when to break forward.

And then with a leader like Cavanagh to knit it all together, they are very difficult to beat. But even with the Moy colossus at his best, Harte's side just don't have the look of All-Ireland champions and I think they are there for the taking, with Monaghan primed to extend their wonderful year.

Another side that will need to get through an awful lot of work over the coming days is Cork. I have been simply baffled by their approach so far. There has been so much talk about them working on systems and what not, but there has been very little evidence to back it up.

Mark Collins was deployed as a sweeper against Galway, but I don't feel he's the best man they have for that role. There were at least three players on the bench who should have started and they are still struggling to find a definitive first 15.

They dominated possession yet they were losing by a point at half-time. Why does this consistently happen to them?

That is not to say there weren't positives. They didn't play well, but still managed to score 1-17. They only scored one goal, but they created at least five clear goal chances, so that must be somewhat satisfying.

Their talent pool is enormous. They clicked for 25 minutes against Kerry in the Munster final and very nearly pulled the game out of the bag.

Looking forward to the game on Saturday, on form there is only one winner. But make no mistake, the Rebels have the players that can get them over the line.

They will relish playing the Dubs at Croker and it will be very interesting. I will reserve my prediction on the result until the teams are picked.

Sunday also represents the first big test for Mayo. There's no better team to prove your credentials against than Donegal. Can their full-back line cope with Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden? More importantly, can the inside forwards do the business against arguably the meanest full-back line in the land?

Only time will tell, but it promises to be a cracker.

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