Mickey Harte has admitted that if he doesn’t shore up his leaky defence, Donegal could inflict serious damage at Kingspan Breffni Park.
Gaps were exploited by Derry and Antrim, who stole in for goals in the previous rounds, prompting questions about the risks being taken by the Red Hands in implementing a shift towards a more attacking strategy. The search for a balance between the new direct kicking approach and their traditional running game is still a work in progress, but one that leaves little room for error in tomorrow’s Ulster SFC semi-final.
“You have to be very aware of the fact that you concede goals, especially when teams run through the heart of your defence. It would be foolish not to observe that and see why it happened,” said the Tyrone boss.
“We have looked to address that since the championship started.
“It is not always easy to do that. As the championship goes on, the competition is going to get stiffer and therefore it becomes more critical to be able to address the security of your team at the back.”
Harte also has concerns about discipline. Derry and Antrim, both of whom played their football in Division Four this year, were able to keep in touch with free kicks before superior Red Hand quality saw last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists pull away comfortably in the closing stages.
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“Tackling is definitely a more challenging skill, because in the past it was very much man to man, one on one tackling. Now, you have players coming at you with momentum and you have to have the ability either to delay them or make them turn back. You can’t let them burst past you.”
Huge concentration will be required against Donegal. Against a packed Fermanagh defence, Declan Bonner’s men displayed immense patience, wearing their opponents down and grinding them into submission in their Brewster Park quarter-final.
“Fermanagh are very well set up, defensively. We saw that ourselves in the McKenna Cup. It is difficult to break them down, because they are well organised and very determined. They put their own stamp on the game. It does take time to break down that sort of stubborn set-up that a lot of teams use, but Donegal had the patience and quality to eventually break it down,” said Harte.
Until relatively recently, Donegal reigned supreme in Ulster football’s greatest modern-day rivalry, but the Red Hands have turned the tables, winning the last three championship meetings between the counties.
Harte senses, though , that the transition in Tir Chonaill is almost complete and that they have an effective blend.
“We are meeting a side who are back in Division One and who have a serious blend of seasoned players who have a lot of experience and a lot of very good young players who are now well beyond the 21 mark.”