Wednesday 23 January 2019

Tomás Ó Sé: Tyrone's variety will ask too many questions that Monaghan cannot answer

14 July 2018; Peter Harte of Tyrone during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 2 Phase 1 match between Tyrone and Roscommon at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
14 July 2018; Peter Harte of Tyrone during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 2 Phase 1 match between Tyrone and Roscommon at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Tomás Ó Sé

It was just like old times last week in Listowel, getting into a heated argument with the big brother about football.

We were in 'Mike The Pies' bar, Darragh, Marc and me doing a Q&A to raise funds for Listowel Hospice and BUMBLEance, the Children's National Ambulance Service.

Anyway, the conversation turned to Monaghan's All-Ireland chances and, well, Darragh and I ended up going at it like rutting stags.

I reckoned they still had it all to prove and, basically, he told me I was "talking s***e".


"Jesus Christ, they fair pushed us to the limit" he said, referencing our meetings in '07 and '08, two days when there was only a single score between us.

To some degree, that made my argument.

"Exactly, but they didn't beat us!" was my reply. It was a point I was re-iterating about the recent draw in Clones. Monaghan had Kerry over a barrel that day, but didn't close out business. To me, that suggested they might still lack a real killer instinct.

And it's why I reckoned Galway would beat them last Saturday.

Having been at the Kerry game, it was Tuesday before I could face sitting down to watch what unfolded in Salthill. Like most Kerry people, I just had no interest in watching or reading anything over the weekend.

But I did notice how I took a bit of a hammering on social media from some of these faceless boyos who get a little brave when their team manages a big win.

In this case, the abuse was coming my way from Monaghan. My crime? Predicting that they'd be beaten.

Honestly, your head would be spinning with this notion of you having something against Monaghan people when all you've actually done is voiced an opinion.

The reason I went for Galway is simple. They should have beaten Kerry by 10 points instead of three in the 'Super 8s'. Monaghan should have beaten Kerry too, but didn't.

Maybe what got up people's noses was my analysis that they were relying very heavily on three players. Now, hand on heart, nothing Monaghan had done before last Saturday suggested they could go to Salthill and blast a team that had lost just once all year out of the water. More to the point, that they'd do so with eight different scorers.

So, taken at face value, Monaghan made a mockery of Galway's blanket defence last weekend and, accordingly, my prediction.

But was the same intensity, madness, call it what you like, in Galway last Saturday that would have been there if they hadn't already qualified for the last four?

I'm not suggesting for a second that they went out to lose the game. But I'm saying that they lacked their normal edge and it resulted in them being bullied off the field.

Now good luck to Malachy O'Rourke, it became a perfect storm from his team.

Monaghan are a rock-solid Division One outfit now. But they have a history of hitting flat spots and, up to now, you could never quite trust them to be right at the pitch of a game.

My information is that the players were furious with themselves after this year's Ulster Championship defeat to Fermanagh, believing that the preparation of O'Rourke and his management team had been flawless.

In other words, they'd simply done what they've done before - hit a flat spot.

And a team who have a habit of, occasionally, not being fully tuned in is a team you can't entirely trust.

I like O'Rourke, incidentally. I think he conducts himself really well and it's clear that he's an extremely astute man tactically.

But in his previous five years at the helm, Monaghan's championship exits have all been largely bloodless. Two quarter-final defeats to Dublin, by 17 and 10 points; two quarter-final defeats to Tyrone by two and four points; and a round two qualifier loss to Longford by three. Then factor in Ulster Championship losses to Down and Fermanagh.

Is it really that scandalous to reference those experiences in your judgment of a team?

Look at them this year. Beaten by Fermanagh, they beat Kildare in a game that could have gone either way, they drew with Kerry in a game they should have won, and then they go and blow Galway out of the water.

That was my point last week and it's still my point now.

Monaghan lack the kind of consistency that would make you believe they can win the Sam Maguire.

Bear in mind I actually tipped them to reach the semi-finals this year. I tipped them to win Ulster. It isn't that I disregard them, not at all.

They've actually done everything I believed they were capable of up to this point. Most importantly, they've broken that psychological barrier of getting to the last four. But can they take the next step?

Now I give them massive credit for what they did last Saturday; their intensity right through the field was hugely impressive. But, having watched the video, it was clear to me that, for whatever reason, Galway didn't show up.

Their defensive system was an absolute shambles, devoid of any pressure on the ball carrier.

Look at all the Monaghan points scored by men, literally, not having a glove laid on them. Galway suffered a critical fall-off in their work-rate. Their tackling was pathetic.

And when they tried to push up on Rory Beggan's kick-outs, he just kicked over them.

Just compare the Galway work-rate (or lack of it) with that of the Dermot Malones, Ryan McAnespies , Shane Careys and Fintan Kellys.

Not only that, but Monaghan strike me as one of only two teams in the country who absolutely trust their full-back line to go man-on-man. The two Wylies and Kieran Duffy were outstanding.

So if you were to take the game at face value, it was an almost perfect performance from Monaghan. But I just can't do that.

Because Galway's performance was a return to their recent past. They were back playing as the nice football team they've been so determined to leave behind.

Monaghan bullied Kerry off the field in Clones but our young fellas kept us in the game and, then, a bit of genius from David Clifford rescued it.

We could, maybe should, have been beaten out the gate because Monaghan were on top in virtually every sector of the field.

Aggression and work-rate are the fundamental pillars of O'Rourke's team. And one thing that strikes me is that they don't really adhere to orthodox positions. Hence you see Conor McManus, Malone and Conor McCarthy turning over possession on their own 14-yard line.

The same thing we see from the likes of Paul Mannion and Dean Rock with the Dubs.

One thing that will be interesting tomorrow will be Tyrone's approach to Beggan's kick-outs. They won't push up on them, I'm sure of that. They didn't do it to Donegal in Ballybofey last weekend, putting little enough squeeze on the opposition until they reached their 45.

Personally, I think that's a dangerous game to play. Why not come at least to the 65? Because a more clinical team are going to score points over your head before you lay a hand on them.

That said, Tyrone are probably the last opponent Monaghan wanted to meet now having finally reached a semi-final.

Mickey Harte more or less admitted this week that he's keeping some of his better players on the bench to give the team a strong third-quarter surge.

Now I'm not sure how that comment went down with some of his starting 15, but you'd still have to admire his honesty.

There's nearly an element of the Muhammad Ali 'Rope a Dope' at work here. Donegal ran out of legs against them basically because of the power Harte got off his bench. That's a worry for Monaghan.

Put it this way, I doubt we'll see the all-out attacking aggression we saw from them in Salthill.

Kevin McManamon used be the bane of Kerry lives when we were playing Dublin. Just when legs were tiring, you'd see him cantering in off the bench.

Now, we always had a plan for him, but we could just never seem to nail McManamon down. I look back now and suspect we simply weren't cynical enough.

And that's not a charge I've ever heard levelled at the modern Tyrone.

The energy Lee Brennan, Kieran McGeary and goalscorers Harry Loughran and Declan McClure gave Tyrone off the bench the last day was incredible.

Harte got 2-5 from his substitutes, some turnover. That's why I'd worry for Monaghan if they're not in control of this game after, say, 40 minutes.

Tyrone are like two teams now. And the moment they sense confidence leaking out of an opponent, they go for the kill.

After a slow start this year, they look to be getting better from week to week now and I wonder can Monaghan beat them twice in one season?

I'm not convinced.

There are holes in the Tyrone defence and I'm sure Monaghan will try to rough them up, draw them out of their comfort zone. And, let's face it, this game won't be for the faint-hearted.


But the physical authority that Monaghan were able to impose in Salthill won't be available to them here.

In fact, I can't help thinking that playing a relatively passive Galway was maybe the worst preparation they could get for going in against Harte's Tyrone now.

There are no secrets between these two. They know one another inside out and don't doubt that Tyrone will still be stung by losing that Ulster Championship game in Omagh.

They're a group with long memories and my suspicion is that they've come out of the more genuine side of the Super 8s.

So as outstanding as Monaghan looked last weekend, you'd have to question what they were up against.

Were Galway 100pc tuned in? And against a team as united as Monaghan's palpably is, you're asking for trouble going in half-cooked.

Monaghan will test the lining of your stomach with how they play and they have some of the best man-markers in the game.

Trouble is, Tyrone won't play any static forwards tomorrow.

They'll keep moving, keep changing things up, keep leaving their markers guessing.

So you'll probably gather, I'm going for a Tyrone win in Croker. Something, I assume, that will have the keyboard warriors kicking off again. Accusing me of being "anti-Monaghan".

Lord help us, we live in strange times.

Irish Independent

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