Sunday 21 October 2018

Finishing powerfully with strength from bench proving critical to Mickey Harte's Red Hand revival

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Mickey Harte gave a remarkable insight into his strategy after his Tyrone team advanced to the All-Ireland semi-finals at Donegal's expense on Sunday when discussing the impact of his bench.

All managers plan carefully for the end game but Harte is the first to acknowledge that he is deliberately tailoring his team for such impact by holding players worthy of a start in reserve.

"There are people who didn't start the game today who are worthy to be on the team but they are also big enough to play for the team and come in knowing that they're going to make a difference," he said.

"If you started them, you wouldn't be sure that the people that you would be leaving off could come in and make the same impact.

"There are players who are good at that - obviously Kieran McGeary stands out as a really quality player at that particular role."

Distinguishing between those who can and might not make an impact in these circumstances is quite a balancing act that risks unwanted stereotype in some cases.

Tyrone's Declan McClure seals victory against Donegal with a late goal. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Tyrone's Declan McClure seals victory against Donegal with a late goal. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Other counties have tailored players for similar roles, Kevin McManamon has come off the bench more times for Dublin than he has started, Cormac Costello started only his second game for the All-Ireland champions in six seasons on Sunday, having come on as a substitute in 13 others, while Barry John Keane has started just three of the 37 games he has played for Kerry.

The impact of the Tyrone back-up is reflected in the 2-5 they contributed against Donegal, coming after four of their 14 points against Dublin came off the bench two weeks earlier.

But Tyrone's second goal, in the 11th minute of added time at the end of the second half on Sunday, perhaps best encapsulates their collective contribution with McGeary, Rory Brennan, Declan McClure, Harry Loughran and Conal McCann combining in a move that ran the length of the field before McClure looped around to finish.

As he did so, on his outside was Lee Brennan, the sixth substitute, reaffirming the amount of support runners they had so often in that last quarter.

To have that energy and running so deep in a game is a valuable asset for any team, something Dublin have been working towards over the last six years under Jim Gavin with their ability to replace like-for-like in so many cases.

Such running power has allowed Tyrone to finish all of their games impressively. On Sunday they outscored Donegal by 2-7 to 0-2 from the 53rd minute on, against Dublin they were six points down in the 57th minute but got it back to two before Dublin pushed out again with a Paul Flynn point.

They were always in control against Roscommon in the opening quarter-final game but were just five ahead in the 48th minute before pulling away to win by 18.

Even in the qualifiers, it was a trend. From 0-10 to 0-5 ahead at half-time against Cork they won by 16 points in the fourth round, having 'won' the last 15 minutes of their third-round qualifier against Cavan by 0-6 to 0-3 for a three-point triumph.

McGeary says the team recognise a "window" that exists in the second half to step up and win a game.

"There is a window of opportunity which presents itself in the second half and if that is the chance to pull away from another team, you do your best.

"You see the Dubs doing it all the time," he pointed out.

"They empty their bench, they get the window of opportunity and they take it.

"When that 15-minute opportunity presents itself, you have got to be direct. Boys are feeling their legs at that stage and if you put a man on the back foot and you score, he starts to question himself.

"I know if it happened to myself and somebody scored a point like that, I'd question my fitness for the last 10 minutes as well. When the chance comes you just have to take it."

He doesn't like the idea of being recognised as an impact player, however. "If we had been beaten, no one would be talking about the difference we made when we came on. There is no specific role that anyone has. When you come onto the field, there is no label that you hold."

McGeary sensed that Lee Brennan's introduction helped to bring a different mindset to Tyrone's approach early in the second half.

"It's completely game on, you have just got to go for it at that stage.

"Lee knows what he's capable of and he showed that whenever the chance presented itself."

McGeary feels the same approach will apply for this weekend's semi-final with Monaghan and suggests both teams were not at their best when they served up one of the games of the championship in May.

"Even in Healy Park, I don't think either team really showed what they were capable of.

"I think both teams held back and continued to be very safe.

"I know Monaghan definitely didn't show their abilities that day and obviously we didn't show our abilities either.

"Next week is do it or die trying, we just have to go for it basically."

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