Tuesday 24 October 2017

Peter Canavan: Dublin had Tyrone’s number but our players didn’t play to potential when it really counted

Seán Cavanagh leads his team out during last weekend's SFC semi-final against Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Seán Cavanagh leads his team out during last weekend's SFC semi-final against Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

'It will take more than pretty hairstyles and fancy boots to beat the Dubs,' was one of the comments made in my direction on the short walk from the Sky Sports studio over to the Croke Park Hotel last Sunday afternoon.

Those Dublin fans had obviously read my prediction of a Tyrone win against the odds in these pages and they weren't slow in reminding me how it had all gone wrong.

It was hard to blame them for being in such good form. Their team had been magnificent.

It was very different for Tyrone supporters as they set off on the long journey back home.

We travelled down to Croke Park with great expectations and dared to dream of taking down this great Dublin team and a giddy build-up to an All-Ireland final.

Instead, we witnessed a disaster that we hadn't even considered, let alone prepared for.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

There's been a few days of sifting through the rubble and wondering how it came to this. At the very least, we thought we'd make it hard for Dublin and take them to the home straight where we'd see if all their years of winning had left them with a soft underbelly.

We fell miserably short of that. Instead of bringing the game down to the final ten minutes, you could say that the game was gone from us after the first ten minutes. That just wasn't in our script.

The post-mortem is only really getting under way now. My big fear that we were too one-dimensional was cruelly exposed by a Dublin side who played like a team who have won nothing. Jim Gavin and Dublin knew what we were coming with and pounced on that.

The system didn't help us in that we couldn't change it up. But on a individual level, we didn't help ourselves either.

At this point it is worth remembering that our set-up had served us well all year. And for it to work last Sunday we needed the players to apply themselves with total commitment and energy.

We also needed to make sure we stopped Dublin getting a good start. Neither of those things happened.

That can be attributed in part to Dublin's brilliance but it also down to a complete lack of physicality on our part. There was no aggression in how Tyrone's players went about their business. No palpable sense of purpose. That's a minimum requirement when you pull on the jersey.

From a Tyrone point of view, there was one appalling statistic that pretty much summed up our disappointing performance. At half-time, Dublin had 67pc of the possession and they had conceded 12 frees, while Tyrone managed to foul on just two occasions.

If you give Dublin the run of the place, they'll trample all over you. And they did.

The result leaves both teams in very different places. Jim Gavin's side were brilliant but it's a concern for them that they stroll into an All-Ireland final without having been tested. I expected that much at least from Tyrone but it didn't materialise.

And now Dublin face a Mayo side who will only be bouncing off the ground for another shot at them.

At the very least, Mayo will bring war. It will be interesting to see how they deal with being under real pressure.

In some ways Dublin's supreme performance was the perfect outcome for Stephen Rochford's side. On Saturday evening Mayo looked in a good place but in less than 24 hours, all the talk was about how good Dublin were.

That might dampen expectations around the county and focus minds within the camp. In the build-up to the final much of the analysis will be on the brilliance of the Dubs and where they would stand in terms of the all-time great teams if they win three in a row. That's no bad thing for Mayo going into an All-Ireland final.

For Tyrone, there is much soul-searching to be done. In one way, Sunday's 12-point defeat shouldn't take from the fact that the county had a fantastic summer and that Mickey Harte has assembled a committed bunch of lads who, with the exception of the retired Seán Cavanagh, are a young side.

Their best days are ahead of them and this experience will make them a meaner, more streetwise team when it comes to playing big games in Croke Park.

Of course, this team won't have Seán for the next part of their development.

Sunday's performance failed to provide him with the exit that his glorious career deserved. I can say that from the first day he landed into the dressing room it was obvious he was a player with serious potential.

I was honoured to have played with him on some of Tyrone's best days. He was a fantastic servant to Tyrone football and leaves with no regrets.

The only comfort is that Tyrone still have a very good core of players there who are willing to do what it takes to improve. Our underage system is producing nicely-rounded footballers too, meaning that any change in style is within Tyrone's range.

Introducing more adaptability into the game will be top of management's 'to-do' list in the weeks and months to come.

With that in mind, I hope the county board acts swiftly and puts to bed the nonsense regarding Mickey's future. He's shipped big blows in the past and rebuilt teams and I expect him to do it again.

With Mickey in place the players will have the continuity they need to improve and realise their full potential.

It will be a long winter but amidst the devastation of defeat, there is cause for hope. 

Irish Independent

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