Saturday 21 April 2018

Eugene McGee: Tyrone's physical education teaches a valuable lesson

Connor McAliskey of Tyrone celebrates after scoring his side's third goal of the game during the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay between Tyrone and Cavan. Photo: Sportsfile
Connor McAliskey of Tyrone celebrates after scoring his side's third goal of the game during the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay between Tyrone and Cavan. Photo: Sportsfile
Mickey Harte prepared his team specifically for this replay. Photo: Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

There is a lot of talk about physicality nowadays in Gaelic football, or, more often, the absence of it.

Well, yesterday in the first half in particular of the Tyrone-Cavan game The Red Hand gave a perfect example of what legitimate physicality is when they completely overpowered their Cavan opponents with finesse and still scarcely conceded a foul.

They did it because they have perfected the skill of being in close to opponents both when contesting the ball and, even more importantly yesterday, when Cavan were in possession.

For this to work, however, it is essential to slow down the pace of the game - something Tyrone did not do in the drawn game and almost paid the penalty. This time they were determined that the Cavan players who ran freely all over the field in the drawn game were not going to be given that luxury again.

So every Tyrone defender, and it's worth noting that in most Cavan attacks there were between 10 and 13 Tyrone players inside their own 45 metre line, it was relatively easy for one or more of them to be as close a possible to the Cavan man in possession with the inevitable consequence that a few nudges, shoulders, and other uses of the upper body left Breffni boys gasping for air.

To add to Cavan's problems, and as a direct result of Tyrone's defensive tactics, when Mickey Harte's side did break out of defence the Cavan players were too slow in mind and body to retreat to their defence as Tyrone are so expert at doing.

It was this defensive lapse of concentration by Cavan that led to their downfall in the 20th minute when first Sean Cavanagh - who operated brilliantly in the middle third of the field as opposed to the full-forward berth he occupied in the drawn game - scored a super point and within two minutes Peter Harte had rammed home two Tyrone goals to rock Cavan's players, mentors and supporters to their foundations.

Read More: Tyrone fire warning to Ulster and All-Ireland rivals with five-goal hammering of Cavan

Another Harte point from a free put Tyrone 2-7 to 0-5 ahead after 25 minutes and one sensed even at that stage the show was over for Cavan who went 21 minutes of the first half without a score while Tyrone registered 2-3 over the same period.

The game was all but over at that point not just on account of the sizeable margin between the teams but also because there was simply no way the Cavan players could cope with their opponents yesterday.

Cavan must have thought the Tyrone players would perform as they did in the drawn game again, which was a fatal error when they realised that this was Mickey Harte preparing a team for a replay. He has lost very few of those and he'd done his homework well this time too.

From the moment the final whistle blew in the first game I said to myself that Joe McMahon, injured or not ,would be in that Tyrone defence to lead the plan to thwart Cavan's aerial success that day.

Throw in Colm Cavanagh as a sweeper too and the Cavan superiority in the air died a sudden death. After that Tyrone controlled the game and quickly limited Cavan to sporadic attacks that invariably were gobbled up simply by being confronted by four or five extra defenders at all times.


I have often used the spider web example in relation to teams like Tyrone and Donegal on their best days, as Tyrone were yesterday. They spread a line of extra defenders into that web and in this case Cavan attacks were smothered. Caught in the web still, Cavan are too slow to get back in defence but Tyrone, well-schooled in this style, then sweep down the field in droves, outnumber the Cavan defenders and get a glut of ridiculously easy goals and points.

It is a style of play that is well-known by now but it's amazing how few teams understand it, take counter measures and take on the opposing runners man-to-man. Cavan are but the latest to become the suckers for this system and they will have plenty of time over the winter to meditate on the whole thing.

But they still have a lot of talented players and if they can win a couple of matches in the Qualifiers, starting with Carlow next Saturday in Breffni Park, then they could still salvage a lot from this debacle.

It's irrelevant now because of how the second half developed but Cavan were denied a sure-fire penalty just before half-time and that did not help.

Tyrone will no doubt be rated as prime contenders now but remember this was a game between two Division 2 teams. Their mixture of young talent and a handful of veterans is certainly impressive and their style of football is attractive nowadays. Their tactical battle with Donegal in the Ulster final may frustrate the capacity of the Clones ground and will certainly not be a game for feint-hearted players either.

Irish Independent

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