Tuesday 22 October 2019

Peter Cavanan: Horror Dublin defeat still clouds Tyrone thinking

I expect Red Hands to be more expansive this season - starting on Sunday against Monaghan

Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan fails to prevent Con O’Callaghan (not in picture) from scoring a goal during Dublin’s convincing victory over Mickey Harte’s men in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan fails to prevent Con O’Callaghan (not in picture) from scoring a goal during Dublin’s convincing victory over Mickey Harte’s men in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

I'd put money down that Malachy O'Rourke has been at more Division 1 matches in Tyrone than he has in Monaghan in recent weeks.

The Monaghan manager has been spotted at various matches around the county, doing his homework ahead of Sunday's clash in what will surely be a packed Healy Park in Omagh.

It's a big game of course, and one both sides will desperately want to win to set them on the direct route.

Whoever comes out on top will also be in a good position to win an Ulster title. There is a lot of talk about the value of the provinces but I know the Anglo Celt trophy still matters to Monaghan.

And for Tyrone, it would be a chance to win three on the bounce in the province for the first time in their history.

There's real value in going through the front door for both teams and that won't be lost on O'Rourke or Mickey Harte going into this weekend.

Yet I can't escape the feeling this isn't do-or-die for either team. The back door immediately took some of the romance out of early provincial games. The high-wire element was removed. And I think both of these sides have their eye on being involved further down the line.

Regardless of what happens in Omagh on Sunday, the losers can recover and salvage something from the season. Put bluntly, I still think both these sides will be in the 'Super 8s', and to be still going when that stage of the season rolls around is their priority.

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For Tyrone people this will be another chance to see what little tweaks the team have made to their approach. It was a long winter up here. Despite the league campaign, that Dublin game still colours our thinking and looms large in the rear-view mirror.

It was hard enough to lose, but to lose without landing a blow of any description made it a bitter pill to swallow.

In recent history, Tyrone teams could expect to land at Croke Park and deliver a performance.

That just didn't happen last year with the game as good as over almost as soon as it started.

It prompted plenty of introspection around the place and talk as to what might change ahead of the new season.

And on this occasion I think you'll see a slightly different approach to how Tyrone go about their business.

Some established values will, of course, be maintained but they'll also look to offer something different when attacking.

Last year, they effectively played with double sweepers. Most of the time Justin McMahon and Colm Cavanagh would sit between the full and half-back lines.

From there, they'd look to win turnovers and hit teams on the break with the considerable athleticism and speed in the team, particularly around the middle third.

It worked to a large extent and delivered an Ulster title. But the problem with that game-plan was that it became a little predictable and too easy to counteract.

Teams quickly learned that they had a choice to push up - and play into Tyrone's hands - or sit back. Dublin had their homework done and they sat back when required.

When they were in possession they used the full width of the pitch to pull Tyrone out of position. And crucially, they simply didn't allow Tyrone to turn them over.

That meant the game was no longer being played on Tyrone's terms.

Mark Bradley was the lone man up front and he'd often be trying to make runs with a marker trailing him and one or even two men in front of him. It was a close to impossible task.

I think Mickey accepted that they had to be a bit more adventurous and there were certainly signs of that in the league.

They used one sweeper, often Frank Burns, and generally left four forwards up.

I think it helps them on a number of levels. Bradley has more help up front with Lee Brennan, who is an exciting player, offering another outlet.

And it also helps free up the centre where Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte and Tiernan McCann can use their running power to support the attack.

Part of the change has come about out of necessity. While they were doing so much right, Tyrone needed to add more scoring threat and a tactical variation in the biggest games.

And part of the change has come about by the change in personnel. There's no Justin McMahon this time around after his retirement and while named in the team last night, there must still be a doubt over Colm Cavanagh - so good as one of those sweepers - starting due to his quad injuty.

It's only a tweak to the system but it's an important one. I've noticed they kick the ball a bit more too and that's a good thing.

I know last year stung the players but I think they have the characters in the squad to learn from it and come back stronger.

In 2002 we were league champions and thought we had a team to make a serious assault on the All-Ireland.

Then we came up against Sligo in Round 4 of the qualifiers in Croke Park and were comprehensively outplayed in the second half.

At the time it felt like a hammer blow but we had a good group who were mentally tough. Other teams might not have recovered but a little over a year later we were All-Ireland champions.

I've said before that I expect this Tyrone group to be dining at football's top table in the coming years and my opinion hasn't changed on that front. There's a lot of talent in that dressing-room.  

In some ways, Monaghan face a similar conundrum to Tyrone. There's been talk that they'll look to play a more expansive style this year and it certainly looks like they have the personnel to do that if that's the route they choose.

Colin Walshe along with brothers Ryan and Drew Wylie is as good a full-back line as you will find anywhere in the country so it's not as if they can't be trusted to hold their own.

And in Jack McCarron, Conor McCarthy and Conor McManus they have real quality in attack, so it will be interesting to see how they go about their business.


That said I wouldn't be terribly surprised if we saw a similar game to what Mayo and Galway produced last week. I can see it being very cagey, and coming down to a number of the same factors that were decisive in Castlebar.

Discipline will be key. These two teams know each other well and there'll be no love lost.

If Cavanagh doesn't play, Monaghan might consider themselves as having the edge physically and look to exploit that.

But neither team can afford to lose a player considering how costly Diarmuid O'Connor's sending off was for Mayo.

Both free-takers will have to be on their game because scores will be at a premium. And when it comes down to the home straight and bodies start to get tired, the respective benches will have a big say.

Similar to Galway, I think Tyrone's bench can make the difference between two well-matched teams. It will be tight but I think Tyrone can prevail in extra-time.

And I expect to see both teams still in action when the 'Super 8s' rolls around.

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