Lessons learned by the cham­pi­ons against Done­gal of­fer only de­spair for Ty­rone

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - THE TITLE -

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

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