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23rd May 2016

SportsJOE analysis: Tyrone’s rotating, absent attack leaves Derry in a spin

Mikey Stafford

What do people expect or want from Gaelic football anymore?

Goals, points, hard-hitting defence, inch-perfect kick-passing, surging runs and a keen contest.

We got all bar the last in Celtic Park on Sunday, but the lack of a contest was entirely the hosts’ fault. Tyrone held up their end of the bargain – at least for 40 minutes, before realising a Derry fightback was not on and rowing back significantly on their own intensity.

We saw enough in that 40 minutes to convince us Mickey Harte has built a formidable team, which can challenge for Sam Maguire this year and potentially win it.

It was enough to make believers out of the RTÉ commentary team.

Amazingly, on the day of a Munster hurling quarter-final, the state broadcaster decamped en masse to Derry.

Marty Morrissey, Darragh Moloney, Michael Lyster, Colm O’Rourke, Brian Carthy and Martin Carney were all up the N2 to sample the delights of the Ulster SFC. Even if Carney wasn’t expecting it to be delightful.

“I wouldn’t be expecting a lot of quality but in its place we will get lots of high octane football,” said Carney, not sure if his mug of milky tea is half-full or half-empty.

In the end we got both from Tyrone and before half-time Morrissey was cooing about the Red Hand display: “It is beautiful to watch when Tyrone play this quality football.”

The preconception for many is that Tyrone, and Ulster football teams in general, set up in a negative fashion, which prevents a game from taking place. Instead we get lateral passing, cynical fouling and hand-passes.

Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Celtic Park, Derry 22/5/2016 Derry vs Tyrone A view of Celtic Park as the two teams parade before the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

I saw lots of lateral passing, cynical fouling and hand-passing at a match this weekend but it wasn’t in Celtic Park. The only saving grace for Kildare’s win over Wexford was that it looked great in comparison to the proceeding Wexford-Dublin hurling massacre.

A one-point deficit that could have been over-turned if underdogs Wexford had a more reliable free-taker belies the fact this was a poor game between two poor sides that will be nowhere come August.

Kildare were playing with two sweepers for long periods against a Division 4 side who managed four points from play. It was slow, plodding and boring.

For 40 minutes in Celtic Park, Tyrone were anything but. Drilled, compact and aggressive in defence, Harte’s men break at a rate of knots and have found the cutting edge in front of goal that cost them last year.

Granted, they do not set up in a conventional 3-3-2-3-3 formation and, when the situation calls for it, they are happy to put 15-men behind the ball.

Dublin are the benchmark and, even if their fans do not wish to admit it, they too set up in a defensive formation when it is called for.

The great conundrum for their challengers this year is how to discommode Cian O’Sullivan, Dublin’s whip-smart, lightning-quick defensive linchpin.

Allowing for the fact Derry were very, very poor, we still saw that this Tyrone team have developed the sort of system that can trouble Dublin by shifting O’Sullivan around the pitch and pulling Jim Gavin’s defence out of shape.

A common refrain at this early stage is, “yerrah, sure XXXX are useless”. Derry were disappointing, but how many of the All-Ireland contenders will face decent opposition in the next two months? How many of them will look as impressive beating up on a poor opponent as Tyrone did Sunday, for 40 minutes?

The key for Tyrone is the constant rotation of forward positions, with full-forward Sean Cavanagh, “wing-back” Peter Harte, corner-forwards Connor McAliskey and Ronan O’Neill capable of popping up anywhere at anytime.

Early in the game, McAliskey popped up on his own 45-yard line to collect a kick-out.

McAliskey early own half

Minutes later Harte, who may well be fitted with a nuclear reactor, was in McAliskey’s corner-forward berth to collect a real-life diagonal kick pass.

Harte up front early

What the Tyrone transition is all about was perfectly illustrated by the first goal. Derry full-back Brendan Rogers is dispossessed a long way from home, stripped of possession by Richard Donnelly.

Derry lose ball

The wing-forward transfers the ball to Mark Bradley, who breaks forward quickly, with McAliskey, Sean Cavanagh, Colm Cavanagh and Harte in support.

build-up first goal 1

As they break, Ronan O’Neill is the only Tyrone man anywhere near the Derry goal, but he is isolated one-on-one with Oisin Duffy. Derry’s sweeper has gone forward in attack and now corner-back Duffy is stranded with one of Tyrone’s most threatening forwards.

Bradley gives the ball back to Richard Donnelly, who plays a perfectly weighted ball over Duffy’s head and O’Neill makes no mistake with cool finish.

first goal build up

As the rain pelted down Tyrone struck for their second goal, which comes from a more conventional attacking set-up. Full-back Ronan McNamee breaks out with the ball and is fouled. From the resulting free Mattie Donnelly takes off on a surging run before playing a ball into the large rectangle, where Sean Cavanagh and O’Neill are waiting.

The resulting goal from O’Neill stems from chaotic defending, but why else place Cavanagh on the edge of the square if not to cause chaos? It worked for Mayo and Aidan O’Shea for a spell last season, but their semi-final exit illustrated how important it is to have a Plan B.

At the moment, playing Cavanagh as a conventional full-forward is Plan B.

second goal

The captain was the perfect foil for the rampaging Harte in first-half injury time, as the “wing-back” score the goal that ended this derby as a contest.

Not for the first time he ran hard at the Derry defence, breaking through the half-back line with ease, before passing to Cavanagh on the end line.

build up 3rd goal

The veteran quickly returned the ball to the Errigal Ciarán man, who finished from close range. Game over.

3rd goal

In the second half Tyrone relaxed a little and were happy to set up a defensive shield around the ‘D’ and restrict Derry to long-range shots from the likes of Ryan Bell.

tyrone set up

They were not done displaying their swiftness on the counter, however, with one more point early in the second half perfectly displaying their ability to break.

Influential substitute Darren McCurry won possession on his own 21-yard line, sparking a mass break upfield. At the time McCurry picked up the ball, O’Neill was the only Tyrone man within 90 yards of the Derry goal.

2nd half point build-up

McAliskey played a diagonal ball to O’Neill, who handed off to Harte. The “wing-back” was rebuffed but recycled for Richie Donnelly, who kicked a simple point.

Derry are disappointing, but don’t let that cloud the fact that Tyrone are very, very good.


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