Saturday 16 December 2017

Red Hand on hunt for goals with Donnelly experiment

Playing Mattie Donnelly close to goal gives Tyrone another ‘string to their bow’. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Playing Mattie Donnelly close to goal gives Tyrone another ‘string to their bow’. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

After seeing his side maintain their unbeaten record and leapfrog Dublin to go top of the table, it was put to Mickey Harte that perhaps a lack of goals remained a concern.

His answer was simple.

"Goals will come. What did we get, 19 points? I don't think that is a bad return," he argued. "We can't have everything. I think any day you get 19 scores it will take a serious team to beat you."

After four games in the League, Harte's side have managed to raise just one green flag, from Aidan McCrory in the second half against Dublin.

And although Harte may have been content with his side's attacking play, he didn't say he wasn't looking for a way to improve either.

And on Sunday, there was the unusual sight of both Sean Cavanagh and Mattie Donnelly playing close to goal, with Tyrone opting to go long to the pair on occasion.


"It's an interesting one," Cavanagh said, when he was asked about the tactic. "Probably we haven't played with a couple of physical players in there, size-wise, and it will take maybe a wee bit of tweaking.

"But there were signs there that we were linking up quite well, and it probably gives us that wee bit more impetus to let the ball in that wee bit longer.

"This last couple of years, we ran the ball quite hard through the hands, and we obviously had the players to do that.

"But now with Mattie there, in the second half, letting the long balls in to him, it only takes one of those to go right and you're probably going to create more goal chances.

"It that's the case, and it works out like that, it will definitely be another string to our bow."

Tyrone didn't manage a goal against Cavan, creating just one chance of note, when Cavanagh's shot was easily dealt with. But Cavanagh denied that Tyrone lose something when Donnelly is pulled out of the middle third and hinted that they might they might persist with the experiment in the coming weeks.

"I think we have an awful lot of players that can play in that middle sector," he said. "While Mattie in particular is very good at running on to play, he can play in the half-back, midfield or half-forward sector and he's good coming on to play, it really does give us another string to our bow, the fact that he has that physicality inside.

"The more we have that, the more the guys will become comfortable with moving the ball in that little bit quicker.

"You can see how the likes of Dublin and Kerry and Mayo, that have dominated the top end of our game for the last three or four years, have always had that physical strength inside. At certain points in the game, they were able to move that ball in that bit quicker.

"It's something we're trying at the minute. It may not stay like that, but I think we're well equipped with the guys we have out the field."

The 34-year-old denied that the experiment hints at a lack of trust in Tyrone's inside forwards.

"I see the quality we have every day of the week in our training. You only have to look at Ronan O'Neill and Mark Bradley and the scores they were able to kick. They are on par with an awful lot of guys in Dublin or Mayo or Kerry.

"I suppose it's the one thing that has let us down, our conversion rate whether it's from free-kicks or open play. Quite often in the last few years we've had more chances, even in the games we've lost, than the teams we've played against.

"We have let ourselves down in front of goals so it probably is that last bit of being able to pick out the right man in the right place and get more accurate. If we do that, I think we'll be a force to be reckoned with."

Cavanagh came through his first 70 minutes of the season unscathed in the win over Cavan, revealing that he has missed just two collective sessions since Tyrone started training late last year.

However, his focus has switched to Saturday night's all-Ulster clash with Donegal in Ballybofey.

"I don't think Ballybofey has been a happy hunting ground for anyone in recent times," he said.

"It's going to be another big challenge, but we have openly spoken about trying to make it to a League final. If we are going to do that, we're going to have to go to places like Ballybofey and try and grind out results.

"While we played in Division 2 last year, and we probably to a certain extent cruised through some games in third or fourth gear; we know next Saturday night we're going to have to be on top of our game.

"It's going to be a war, it's another Ulster one. We played them there in 2013 and '15 and they turned us over there, so I think it's the next step in this team's evolution, to go to places like Ballybofey and try and grind out results.

"And if we can come out with a one-point victory, that's going to be progress for us."

Irish Independent

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