Wednesday 21 August 2019

Peter Canavan: 'Tyrone face conundrum over comfort of blanket'

Harte has gone back to basics and defensive set-up will beat most teams - but not Dublin

Case for the defence: A total of 13 outfield Tyrone players stand within 50 metres of Niall Morgan’s goal against Kildare last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Case for the defence: A total of 13 outfield Tyrone players stand within 50 metres of Niall Morgan’s goal against Kildare last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

I've said it before but Tyrone footballers tend not to thrive when they are being showered with pats on the back and praise.

They are better when there's a little bit of hurt to hold on to. So it's no accident that the county have produced their best football of the summer since the stinging criticism they received from many quarters in the wake of the defeat to Donegal.

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That game represented more than just a defeat in the Ulster Championship to a local rival. Instead it called into question the way Tyrone were approaching games tactically and what way they would set up going into the rest of the summer.

It was a poor Tyrone display. Donegal seemed to be more energetic and up for the battle but they played into their hands that day too. Declan Bonner's game-plan was very much based on counter-attacking and with Tyrone going man to man, it left space to exploit.

That defeat meant there was a lot of soul-searching to be done in the group. Tyrone had to decide what sort of team they were going to be for the rest of the summer.

During the league, they had opened their shoulders and played more on the front foot. In the win over Dublin in Croke Park, they looked to be finding their feet with their new style but the Donegal game changed all that.

That loss stung in a few different ways. Tyrone were beaten at their own game and Donegal were showered with praise for 'out Tyrone-ing Tyrone' while Tyrone were suddenly deemed to be tactically naive.

So that game left a mark and Mickey Harte was left with a conundrum. Would he stick with their new, more open game-plan that had promised so much in the league but failed against Donegal? Or would he revert to what brought his side all the way to an All-Ireland final last year?

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In the end, he opted to revert to type to help them through the qualifiers. The logic was simple. It's a results business and since then Tyrone have gotten the results. They've rebuilt their confidence and found a bit of momentum along the way. Suddenly Tyrone are contenders again in many people's eyes again.

Still there's a burning question for them. The way Tyrone play now, they are good enough to beat probably 90 per cent of the teams out there.

You could argue that they could beat anyone bar Dublin playing that way but if they did get a shot at the champions again - and that's where this group's ambitions lie - you'd be fairly certain they'd come up short. Dublin are just too well-versed in beating the blanket. 

Still, Mickey is a practical man so he's gone back to the tried and trusted to keep Tyrone's summer alive. But he's a clever man too and usually he has something up his sleeve.

By using the long diagonal ball a bit more, Tyrone had mixed it up and it was the right thing to do for them to take the next step. They played some of their best football in the last 20 minutes of the 'Super 8s' game in Omagh last year, where Tyrone had to go after Dublin to try and eat into their lead.

In the opening quarter of the All-Ireland final last year, they looked better when they went at Dublin, rather than looking to absorb pressure. I think we might see a more expansive Tyrone if they can jump the Cavan hurdle tomorrow night.

I read a lot of opinions suggesting that Cavan might have been better off facing a team from outside Ulster. That might have been true of them in the past but this team are starting to find their feet.

Beating one of the province's big three in Monaghan was a major psychological lift for them and they also overcame an Armagh side who showed how good they were when taking Mayo to the brink last weekend.

I've heard Tyrone supporters talking this week about when and where their Super 8s games would be on and that sort of talk always makes me uneasy but if Tyrone hold their form, they should have enough to book their spot in the Super 8s.

Tomorrow night may not be the prettiest football. One knockout blow was enough for this team to absorb this summer. But right now staying in the fight is the only priority.

PETER'S TIPS

Tomorrow

All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round 4, Cork v Laois, Semple Stadium, 5pm

Cork managed a decent tally of 3-10 against Kerry and looked impressive throughout. A year ago they crumbled against the same opposition. Laois have made good progress under John Sugrue but this will be a step too far.

Verdict: Cork

Galway v Mayo, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, 7pm (Sky Sports Arena)

If James Horan had to list the players he couldn’t be without, Lee Keegan and Diarmuid O’Connor would be near the top. That tips it in Galway’s favour.

Verdict: Galway

Sunday

Meath v Clare, Portlaoise, 2pm (RTÉ1)

Meath have been licking their wounds since the Leinster final defeat to Dublin. They only scored four points from 22 scoring chances against the Dubs. That conversion rate will improve against Clare, who will be coming in with the momentum, but Meath could win by a point or two.

Verdict: Meath

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