When Mickey Harte acknowledged last spring that Tyrone required more height and physicality in their attack, he was hoping the ploy would pay off with an occasion like last Friday night.
Watching Cathal McShane, a powerful, edge-of-the-square full-forward collect his first All-Star amounted to a validation of sorts for Harte, that his new more direct approach paid off.
Yet the reality is that 2018 All-Ireland finalists Tyrone only made it as far as this year’s semi-finals and while McShane did finish as the Championship’s joint top scorer, the claim of several pundits was that Harte effectively lost his nerve mid-season and reverted to a more trusted defensive formula.
Pundit Dessie Dolan commented that after losing to Donegal in Ulster, “they’ve tried to be expansive and it hasn’t worked. It failed miserably. And Mickey Harte was probably under pressure to do it from the players. He reverted to type with Colm Cavanagh dropping back as sweeper”.
Former Tyrone star Brian McGuigan also noted that “against Donegal we went man-to-man and we just haven’t the players to do that. Mickey’s going with the system (now) that suits the players.”
Tyrone forward Conor Meyler has rejected the accusations that Tyrone effectively lost their nerve mid-summer and reverted to tried and trusted.
“I don’t think that we did revert back to type in the sense that if you look at our Championship scores, we scored highly all year and Cathal obviously was top scorer this year as well,” said Meyler.
“I think sometimes the public perception is that they tarnish us with this brush that says Tyrone are defensive and all it takes is just one or two people in the media to do that and people latch onto it as fact without backing it up with any real evidence from what’s actually going on in a particular game.
“I think we came out and played a lot of open football this year. I watched the All-Ireland final and watched a lot of games this year where teams played 15 players behind the ball and nobody says anything about it.
“I saw Dublin, Kerry and Mayo all do it where they drop all their players and people still talk about what a great open and expansive game it was.”
The 25-year-old, who has graduated with a Masters in Education and works now in Belfast, acknowledged that Tyrone did fail to get their tactics right in the Ulster semi-final loss to Donegal.
“We realise how good a forward line we have and the need to get ball to them, we probably got caught by Donegal in the sense that it was our sole focus, we were trying to get the ball in too quick,” said Meyler.
“It didn’t work and we didn’t have a plan B nearly so it’s about being able to match up the two. You see the top teams being able to chop and change based on their opponents, I think we will have to do that a bit better next year and spend more time analysing the opponents and seeing what the best way is to go.”