Monday 19 March 2018

Eugene McGee: Tentative Tyrone are in need of a complete overhaul

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Skimming through the behaviour of several games in the opening round of the new National League can often be an enlightening experience because there are so many changes in team line-outs and team managers from the 2014 season.

This weekend was a good example and the most interesting study concerned the Ulster clash between Monaghan and Tyrone in Omagh.

After the controversial ending to their game in the Ulster championship last year there was no need for artificial motivation from either side and the fact that Tyrone lose very few league games in Omagh added to that anticipated level of intensity.

The game seemed to be going to by now usual procedure in the first half when Tyrone dominated early on and led by 0-7 to 0-2 after 21 minutes. This all suggested that Mickey Harte was on the road to the top again.

Despite the controversy last week when half a dozen players were discovered to be no longer on the Tyrone panel after they had once again won the McKenna Cup.

But the beauty of the National League is that strange things can happen in games because teams are unsettled, levels of fitness vary from player to player and weather conditions are far removed from summer football.


To add to the uncertainty in Omagh, the floodlights went out early in the first half, apparently because two bulbs blew which led to a delay of 30 minutes that would not have helped either team.

But then just when Tyrone people were anticipating a great start to their league campaign, Monaghan came to life with an astonishing statistic for a winter's night football when they rattled off a staggering nine unanswered points either side of hal-f-time to leave Tyrone fans and players in a state of shock.

The game turned into a massacre, with Tyrone going 35 minutes without any score and ending with a Monaghan triumph of 1-13 to 0-9, meaning that Monaghan had outscored their opponents by 1-11 to 0-2 over the final 50 minutes of the game.

So what does this mean for both teams? Well, for Monaghan it is a huge away win, something that is very precious in Ulster football, especially in winter time with snow permeating the air. They have moved from Division 3 to Division 1 and are in a strong position to build on their 2013 Ulster title victory.

And their star player Conor McManus only came on as a sub because of fitness doubts.

For Tyrone, this is quite a setback to be well-beaten by any Ulster county in Omagh. The uncertainty brought about by several retirements and the dropping of players by the management will surely be aggravated by this performance as much as by the actual result.

Tyrone rarely perform so dismally in big games like this.

The other Ulster Division 1 game, by contrast, was a totally different contest that saw Donegal walk all over Derry and as in Omagh the losers flattered only to deceive early on.

Derry had largely dominated the first half in what was a well-attended Ballybofey encounter and led at half-time by 0-9 to 0-6. But what Donegal have above all for these situations is big-time winning experience over the past few years.

They had about ten All-Ireland medal winners playing in and when it came to actually winning the second-half battle, it was simply no contest.

They crushed Derry after the break by 1-9 to 0-3, a fair indication of their performance. It was interesting even at this very early stage of the new manager Rory Gallagher's reign to observe what appeared to be a change of emphasis in the Donegal style which saw them use more kicking of the ball to open up the play as opposed to their previous control of games by hand-passing.

It certainly worked on Saturday and we will await with interest to see if this trend develops further. Looking at the game there was enough to indicate that Donegal are far from a dying team even if some veterans looked a bit slow.

They are one of the most interesting teams to look out for in this league. Derry practically surrendered in the second half when Donegal upped the ante. They started overplaying the ball to a ridiculous extent particularly in the middle third of the field which is a cardinal error when playing against Donegal.

No wonder Derry had the ball taken away from them in straight man-to-man contests on numerous occasions because that is a skill Donegal are past masters at. It is amazing how poor so many teams are at learning from the strengths of opponents.

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