Lessons learned by the champions against Donegal offer only despair for Tyrone
TYRONE may have got that Donegal monkey off their back, but the animal that will come back and hunt them today is far more dangerous.
I am as intrigued as anyone else about this semi-final showdown, but I am not is in anyway confused as to what the final outcome will be.
I have heard all the patter about how Tyrone can derail the Dublin bandwagon, but what I have not heard is an explanation as to how it can be accomplished.
In my mind this is a simple equation. Tyrone are a good team, most likely a very good one; Dublin are a great one, most likely one of the greatest ever.
If you want to do up the maths that way, you too will find that there can only be one answer.
Of course, it is not that simple, however the onus today is on Tyrone to throw that curve ball which will be out of Dublin’s reach but I just don’t see it.
Optimism for Tyrone is rooted in their structured defence which is effectively built around the double sweeping roles occupied by Colm Cavanagh and Pádraig Hamspey.
It is more than that, without the ball, they are supported by lines of players who rush back into position.
They also tackle with absolute efficiency – their free-count concession rate is impressively low for a team who play a heavily defensive game.
As a result, their overall concession rate is miserly – they have conceded on average of 12 points a game – and, driven by a powercharged half-back line, they sting for fun on the counter.
Now close your eyes and think hard to see if that reminds you of another Ulster team from the very recent past.
That’s right, Tyrone structurally are twinned with the Donegal team that were the last to beat Jim Gavin’s champions three years ago, but rather than that being a source for hope, it should invite despair.
That was the best thing that ever happened Gavin and Dublin and the reality is that if Tyrone are going to win today on the strength of that game-plan, it will require the champions to suffer a collective bout of amnesia.
Dublin are not going to heedlessly fly into Tyrone’s web like they did against Donegal and because of that lesson, Mickey Harte has to come up with something new today to ensure his team’s defensive structure actually has something to defend.
And that is where I see their issue. There is one difference between Harte’s Tyrone and McGuinness’ Donegal – the latter could also engage a kicking game because of Colm McFadden’s presence in particular.
I don’t see that with Tyrone, although Seán Cavanagh could stay inside to provide support for Mark Bradley, who simply does not have the capability of winning ball in a powerfully manned defence which will be screened by Cian O’Sullivan.
But Gavin will hammer the hammer here. Philly McMahon will match up on Cavanagh and he will try to force him on the back foot.
The one thing they must do to have a shot is go after Dublin. They have to become aggressors and it is best to do that at the start rather than when it is too late and you are there to be picked off while
chasing a deficit.
In Croke Park, even allowing for their excellent conditioning, Tyrone will have to pick their moments to turn up the heat on Cluxton.
They can either take a leaf out of Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s play book and press up on set plays or simply go for regular five-minute power-plays to spare their legs.
They are well capable of that, but they are also aware that they are playing one of the most athletic and potent ball-carrying teams who can wreak havoc on the break.
But Tyrone have no other option. The alternative is to bunker in and force Dublin to blink in a game of chess.
The one thing that marks out this Dublin team is how they protect the ball, you don’t see the likes of Ciarán Kilkenny, Brian Fenton and O’Sullivan risking turnovers and they will happily recycle while probing for an opening.
And if it does turn into a cagey affair, then Dublin have the long-range shooters and strength on the bench.
We always tried to shut down their half-forwards when we played them. On a good day you might shut down two but there would always be one like Diarmuid Connolly in 2013 that would carve you up.
I expect him to feature prominently, while Con O’Callaghan and Kilkenny can shoot from distance.
So can Paul Mannion and Dean Rock, while from the bench Paul Flynn and, if he starts there, Bernard Brogan can do likewise.
Remember that game in 2014 when Connolly and Flynn pinged balls over at will from distance in the opening quarter but then they lost the run of themselves by taking risks when there was no need.
Dublin still retain that capacity to sting from deep, but these days they are happy to kill you with a thousand cuts rather than going for the jugular.
Donegal taught them that and it is a lesson that has been learned well by Jim Gavin’s men.
LYNCHPIN: Colm Cavanagh