Monday 27 January 2020

Joe Brolly: Dublin's total annihilation of one-dimensional Tyrone is a victory for the future of football

Dublin players Paul Flynn, Jonny Cooper and Cian O'Sullivan celebrate
Dublin players Paul Flynn, Jonny Cooper and Cian O'Sullivan celebrate
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

This could have been Armageddon for Tyrone. Lucky for them, it was only annihilation. Tyrone played like blue-arsed flies slowly dying in a sunroom. Dublin were as relaxed as a man washing his car on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The game really started with an extraordinary kick-out from Stephen Cluxton. Tyrone pushed up for that first kick-out.

Cluxton kicked the ball 60 metres over the top of the Tyrone press, sending Dean Rock through for their first point of the day.

It was a warning to Tyrone that whatever they did with the kick-outs, it would be futile.

I wrote yesterday that Tyrone's big problem would be working the ball out of their blanket defence. Normally, they have free men to offload to, but not against the Dubs, who tackled them ferociously the whole way out.

This meant that by the time Tyrone got to the halfway line they had no free runners ahead of the play and were already being forced backwards. With 5'6" Mark Bradley their only outlet in the forward line being doublemarked, this strategy was doomed.

Tyrone's Seán Cavanagh with Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton
Tyrone's Seán Cavanagh with Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton

Mickey Harte is often described as a tactical genius and I have always disputed that. His team of the noughties was a once-in-a-lifetime group - brimming with skill, ruthlessness and athleticism. The sort of team Jim Gavin would have loved. Yesterday in Croke Park, as Tyrone floundered, so too did Mickey.

Dublin demonstrated their incredible offensive arsenal from the start. They occupied the Tyrone blanket defenders and made clever runs, dragging them out of position, before delivering an incisive pass to create a score.

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Their first goal was a snapshot of the tactical cakewalk. Tyrone brought the ball out from their defence under severe pressure. When they got to the midfield they had no options up front and a stray crossfield pass was intercepted. The ball was quickly kicked 30 metres to Con O'Callaghan, who was in the clear. He soloed through.

Three of his forward colleagues made hard runs taking their men away from the central column.

One dummy and O'Callaghan was clean through, before finishing to the net. 1-1 to 0-1 and the game was over.

Tyrone's game-plan has zero variety. As soon as they were three behind, they were done. "You're f***ed" I said to Brian McGuigan in the RTé box. "I think you're right Joe."

And so they were. Tyrone's strength was turned against them as Dublin flooded their zonal defence and ripped them apart, then prevented them from running the ball out with fierce man-to-man tackling. It was a perfect storm.

Tyrone stood off, Dublin kicked a long-range point. They committed and the Dubs blitzed through their zone. They pushed up on the kick-out, Dublin went over them. They stood off, Cluxton kicked short.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte shakes hands with Dublin manager Jim Gavin
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte shakes hands with Dublin manager Jim Gavin

At one point the RTé camera focused on Stephen Rochford and I swear he gulped. If a thought bubble had appeared above his head it would have said "HELP".

Tyrone's one-dimensional game-plan worked well against lesser blanket defensive teams in Ulster. The Dubs are not a lesser team. Have they any weaknesses? An awesome goalkeeper. Six primary defenders (and four more on the bench) who are flying machines, brilliant tacklers, skilled footballers and students of the game. Two awesome midfielders who can hit, sprint, tackle, score, set up and fetch.

And a set of 12 forwards that would lead any other county team. Diarmuid Connolly was brought on in the 69th minute. Bernard Brogan was left on the bench. Kevin McManamon came on and almost scored one of the great Croke Park goals.

Add to this their perpetual motion, total teamwork, humility and ambition, and we have one of the greatest teams to play the game.

It was all absolutely shocking for Tyrone. By the 15th minute they were done. They sat back in their defensive shell, not knowing any other way. If the Dubs couldn't move the ball quickly upfield to get the score, they were happy to be patient.

In the 42nd minute, with Tyrone seven down, Dublin held the ball for a full two minutes and 18 seconds before releasing James McCarthy for a lovely point. It could have been much worse.

Two open goals were spurned by Dublin as Tyrone continued to simply stand there and hope for the best. They offered nothing, so they got nothing. It is a victory for football.

The nightmare for any lover of the game would be this Tyrone group winning big, since it would spawn countless copycats all over the country, at county and club level. The game is already poor enough as a spectacle.

In Ulster, the county game has been ruined by blanket defending and the movement away from skill-based football has resulted in a team as bad as Tyrone being Ulster champions.

The Dubs should be the template for any coach. Start with skill-based football, then develop a thinking team grounded on the best use of those skills.

Gavin has followed this approach zealously. The result is a team that plays brilliant football and can play it anyway you want to. They love to play and boy does it show. The game yesterday was a poor spectacle, but that is because every game involving Tyrone is a poor spectacle.

We will now have a brilliant final, with two teams who want to play football and express themselves.

For 30 counties, that is the only thing that matters. Thank God for the Dubs. Where would we be without them?

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