Wednesday 13 November 2019

Peter Canavan: It's a pity Seán Cavanagh wasn't more vocal when he was on panel

Talking Point

Mickey Harte chats to Seán Cavanagh in Croke Park last August – the Tyrone manager has been the subject of criticism from his former player this year. Photo: Sportsfile
Mickey Harte chats to Seán Cavanagh in Croke Park last August – the Tyrone manager has been the subject of criticism from his former player this year. Photo: Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

Since the qualifier draw paired Tyrone with Meath, the thought struck me that the two counties are in very similar positions.

Both have been caught in a kind of tactical flux. I was looking at footage from the games they lost in Ulster and Leinster respectively and it's clear that what they are trying to do on the pitch and what is actually happening are miles apart.

As well as that there have been off-field issues. You saw that in Meath at the end of the league when a handful of players opted out. At that stage, much of the hard work was completed and there was championship football on the horizon. Still, a few decided it wasn't for them and walked.

When you are trying to build something like Andy McEntee is, that's far from ideal. Meath need everyone pulling in the same direction right now.

We've had a little bit of that in Tyrone too. There was an over-and-back played out in the media between Gavin 'Horse' Devlin and Seán Cavanagh. Seán suggested that some players had been held back by the style of play.

'Horse' replied, stating that through the years players have always been able to approach Mickey Harte.

For me, it was a pity Seán wasn't more vocal when he was inside the camp because it's much easier to affect change from within.

Seán's entitled to his opinion, of course, and he's entitled to express it but I think it could have been conveyed in a less divisive manner.

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To see a wedge driven between our most successful manager and one of the greatest players Tyrone has ever produced only serves the interests of those outside the county.


It's far from ideal when a team is thrust into the spotlight in that way ahead of a game that sees them put their season on the line.

Tyrone have enough to be getting on with after that disappointing defeat to Monaghan without that kind of thing.

The row also puts one of Tyrone's most important players, Colm Cavanagh, in a difficult spot. He'll have a loyalty to both his brother and his manager.

I remember Mickey getting some stick for persevering with Colm early in his inter-county career but he kept working with him and helped turn him into the player he is today.

Colm is one of the most important men in that Tyrone dressing-room now and I've no doubt his leadership and drive will be central in turning around Tyrone's fortunes this year.

It was clear after the Monaghan game that Tyrone need Colm in full flow. Tyrone didn't win any of their kick-outs that went long that day after Colm went off.

Cavanagh's presence will certainly be needed against a physical Meath midfield. A positive for Tyrone is that after being forced off against the Farney, he came through a club match unscathed.

Meath and Tyrone ran into similar problems in their opening championship games. If you look back at Longford's points against Meath you'll notice that in many scenarios there were plenty of Meath bodies back but Longford were still able to score.

When McEntee came in I think he wanted to play a more orthodox style, where his backs would be left to deal with their opposite number man-on-man. He saw then that they were conceding too much and he has tried to tighten up, but I think Meath have struggled with that transition.

Late in the game against Longford they got their running game going.

The ball was sticking up front with runners coming hard and fast.

They have played well in patches but so far they haven't been able to knit the defensive and offensive aspects of their game together.

In that regard they are very similar to Tyrone. I wrote in these pages before the Monaghan game about how they were in the process of changing their game-plan and how they were now willing to leave an extra body up front.

I thought they looked good when they moved the ball quickly. But as the game wore on they reverted to type.

When Monaghan were on the attack they would flood bodies back and you'd see Tyrone's two most advanced players, Lee Brennan and Mark Bradley, sucked down the field.

If Tyrone won a turnover they had no out-ball then, and they were caught in the same situation as last year.

Essentially, they got caught between their old style of play and their new approach, unsure of what they were trying to do in defence in attack. Like Meath, they got plenty of bodies back but having those defenders can often lead to a false sense of security.

Having players back is fine but they have to be active and contributing to the game rather than just marking space.

There's a perfect example of that in Monaghan's goal. If you look at the footage there are half a dozen Tyrone bodies there but Vinny Corey still gets a clear sight on Niall Morgan's goal. It proved to be the game's crucial score.

In Páirc Tailteann tomorrow a lot will depend on how Tyrone set up.

They are missing a host of inside forward options with Brennan and Bradley injured and Darren McCurry absent, while Ronan O'Neill was brought on and taken off last time out.

This has led to Harte calling up Ruairi Sludden. He is a talented player who came up through the underage ranks, but he hasn't quite reached his potential yet.

While Kieran McGeary and Cathal McShane can operate inside, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw Sludden at some stage.

Tyrone are without the suspended Peter Harte too, so it will be a very different team to the one that started against Monaghan.

Meath are big underdogs but I'm expecting them to bring thunder early on. That defeat to Longford will have hurt and they are in their own back yard here. The do-or-die nature of it should prompt a reaction from McEntee's men.

Expect it to be hot and heavy from the off. Still, I think Tyrone will find a way and I can see them getting on top in the second half. And a win in Navan can spark their season into life.

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