Saturday 17 March 2018

Jury still out as Tyrone stake their All-Ireland credentials

The basics of Tyrone’s game stand up to scrutiny, with Tiernan McCann part of an outstanding half-back line. Photo: Sportsfile
The basics of Tyrone’s game stand up to scrutiny, with Tiernan McCann part of an outstanding half-back line. Photo: Sportsfile
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

If by some miracle neither Dublin or Kerry win this year's All-Ireland SFC title, it's generally assumed that Tyrone will be the benefactors but the hard facts don't back up this theory and the jury is still out on them.

Twelve months ago, big things were expected in the last eight but their Achilles heel came back to haunt them against Mayo and little has changed since. I'd never question their defensive capabilities but can they back it up in attack?

Tyrone averaged 13 points per game in their league campaign - hitting the net three times in seven outings - and I don't think they've beaten anyone this year to reflect their tag as credible All-Ireland contenders.

You must have at least two or three marquee men that will kick the crucial scores and when you look at the great Tyrone team of the noughties they had Peter Canavan, Stephen O'Neill, Owen Mulligan and Brian McGuigan.

We know the current crop are defensively sound and while the 23-point scoring average in each of this year's championship games suggests improvement, can a team really turn around their attacking fortunes overnight?

Can you suddenly become a free-flowing, potent team after racking up big scores in three games against inferior opposition like Derry, Donegal and Down? I don't think so and their form on paper isn't half as impressive when you delve a little deeper.

So where exactly are Tyrone? The basics of their game stand up to scrutiny and they have an outstanding half-back line in Tiernan McCann, Padraig Hampsey and Peter Harte while the 'mark' has helped their long kick-out strategy immensely.

The team ethos and the core values that they've always had - honesty, trust and loyalty - are still evident, while they'll compete ferociously for every ball and have developed some new styles of attacking play including variations of their blistering running game.

They have a relentless work-rate and they choke the opposition to death by having so many bodies at the back but I'm still not convinced by their forward play and they'll have to go up a few gears to trouble Dublin in the semi-finals.

It's wrong to totally dismiss an Armagh side with Kieran McGeeney at the helm but Tyrone will be ready for everything they throw at them. Andrew Murnin will be a big loss for Armagh because sometimes he strikes me as a fella that doesn't even know what he's going to do himself and that type of player is difficult to defend against.

Armagh will be in their faces but Jamie Clarke will be suffocated and scores will be hard-earned with his influence reduced. Tyrone's conversion rate must increase, however, as it takes 20 scores to beat any of the big guns and they need to send out a statement to prove their All-Ireland credentials.

Their likely last four opponents are the Dubs but they have their own doubters to silence after shipping 1-17 to Kildare in the Leinster final, where a few chinks of light for the chasing pack were highlighted. Michael Fitzsimons looks beatable under the high ball and you'd have to wonder if the legs are still there at the back.

Cian O'Sullivan is a key player but he's been called ashore early in the Leinster and League finals and isn't playing to his usual standards. Is he injured? Is he losing a little bit? Regardless, other teams will take consolation from his performances.

Jim Gavin has freshened up the Dubs and they've taken more breaks than in any other year under his stewardship. He's tried to bring them slowly to the boil rather than sustain the effort for the whole year as they did in the past two seasons.


Too many teams have been within one score of them and Gavin was definitely questioning whether they've overdone it in the past because they haven't been at their sharpest when Sam Maguire was in touching distance in recent years.

They've tried a different approach but that could backfire. If it's not broken, why fix it? Micko never changed things in Kerry, he kept the tried and trusted formula. He had the ability to get everyone peaking together and even the heavy fellas like myself, John Egan, Seanie Walsh and Mikey Sheehy were fit when it mattered most.

What Dublin are trying to achieve is phenomenal but I don't buy the talk of three in-a-row in this era being more difficult than in the past. There was no safety net in our day, and unlike Dublin we had to peak three times in the year.

Monaghan need to break the glass ceiling and make it to the last four under Malachy O'Rourke but while Conor McManus and Co will go gung-ho to make it there, they've drawn the short straw and this is the perfect preparation for the Dubs as Tyrone are likely to be in waiting.

Irish Independent

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