Thursday 18 July 2019

Pat Spillane: 'Tyrone's All-Ireland chance has gone - and they will struggle to bounce back in the qualifiers'

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Pat Spillane

Tyrone’s slim chance of winning the All-Ireland title this year has now disappeared without trace.

Frankly, I will be flabbergasted if they repeat last year’s feat and reach another final. Let’s be honest, they flattered to deceive last summer.

Meath ought to have beaten them in the first round of the qualifiers and they fell over the line against a very average Monaghan side in the semi-final.

Even though they have traditionally done well in the qualifiers, I can’t see their luck holding again this summer.

As Mickey Harte acknowledged, their fate now depends on the luck of the draw. While I expect them to have too much power for Longford next weekend, the draw might not be as kind to them in the next round.

Unlike a lot of commentators, I wouldn’t get too carried away by Donegal just yet, although I was pleasantly surprised by their performance against Tyrone.

I really didn’t expect them to be that good. They had physicality in abundance, strong runners and good kickers and Tyrone failed miserably to breach their defensive system.

However, in the second-half they were slow to put a bad Tyrone team away. Only one of their starting forwards, Paddy McBrearty, scored from play after the break and despite their superiority, only one score separated the teams deep in injury-time.

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Having said that, it was still a hammering for Tyrone everywhere but on the scoreboard. What was surprising was how little energy or intensity they brought to the table and their lack of leadership was particularly noticeable.

Their defending was also naive as it depended on them implementing a man-marking system. The issue is that they no longer have defenders of the calibre of Ryan McMenamin and Conor Gormley to act as enforcers.

It has to be acknowledged that they have moved away from their ultra-defensive system and have become a more offensive team this season, but when the pressure came on this game plan fell apart. Their players were unable to adapt and suffered a complete meltdown.

Once their system failed they struggled badly. It was a particularly clueless performance and Harte really has his work cut out to turn their season around now.

In general, it’s either a feast or famine when it comes to the football championship. Last weekend there were 11 football championship matches; on Sunday there was just one – the Connacht final between Galway and Roscommon. 

Next weekend we have three provincial finals and the eight games in Round 2 of the All-Ireland qualifiers.

The upshot is that the four provincial finals will be done and dusted by the third weekend in June unless replays are needed – which is highly unlikely in the case of the Leinster and Munster deciders.

By the end of June, 20 counties will have exited the championship. The Super 8s do take centre stage in July, but this means there are only two weekends of football during August. And unless the All-Ireland final ends in a draw, the whole show will be over by the first Sunday in September.

As I have repeatedly written here, I think the schedule is daft and counter-productive. I’m looking forward to seeing what proposals GAA president John Horan’s new fixtures task force comes up with to streamline the system.

Round 1 of the football qualifiers passed off without much fanfare last weekend, but the results put a dent in the notion that a tiered football championship would be a silver bullet when it comes to solving the issues that bedevil football.

In four of the eight games the winning margin was 10 points or more, which suggests that it will take more than a tiered system to solve the inequalities in the football landscape.

The bottom line is that eight teams – five of them from Division 4 – won’t have another meaningful competitive game until the first round of the league next January.

How is any team supposed to improve in those circumstances?

Maybe I’m being a tad premature, but I think I can finally say that the ultra-blanket defensive system in football can be laid to rest – at least at inter-county level.

By my reckoning, only three teams – Carlow, Fermanagh and Waterford – are still clinging to this outdated system.

Carlow failed to win a match in this year’s championship; their average losing margin was 12 points, while they scored an average of eight points.

Likewise Fermanagh failed to win a game; their average losing margin was five points and their average score of nine points.

Waterford failed to record a victory as well as they lost their two games by an average of 10 points and scored just an average of seven points in their two clashes.

I rest my case.

Read Pat Spillane every week in The Sunday World.

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