Peter Harte and Niall Sludden axis vital for Tyrone

By Peter McNamara

Tyrone were touted in a number of quarters last Saturday morning as the team to shatter Dublin’s exceptional unbeaten record, at Croke Park on Saturday night.

A few sound cases for their chances were put forward, too.

And following Niall Morgan’s inspirational save from Dean Rock’s penalty in the 40th minute, it seemed as if such arguments were about to be proved as accurate.

Yet, the systematic way in which Jim Gavin’s soldiers eroded a daunting deficit in the context of this particular encounter thereafter should concern the Metropolitans’ challengers.

Last week, this column illustrated the methodology in the “process” Gavin refers to in his pre- and post-match press conferences.

The Dublin supremo is constantly at pains to reiterate the point that if his players trust in the process in place for them, success is highly likely to follow.

A revised record of 31 matches unbeaten further cements that theory as pure gold.

Mickey Harte's Tyrone continue to evolve and progress.

This is primarily so because if Dublin are to retain their All-Ireland title next September do not be surprised if their stalemate with Mickey Harte’s northerners is referenced as a key moment in their season afterwards.

Tyrone had engineered a two-point half-time advantage at headquarters, leading 0-5 to 0-3.

However, two statistics that were largely overshadowed by Dublin’s remarkable fight-back were that Harte’s men fired the ball wide eight times before the interval and hit 13 wides overall.

Those statistics, alone, rubberstamp the thought-process Dublin were left off the hook in many ways by their rivals.

However, as we have seen, though, if you allow Gavin’s charges the sight of a chink of light they will crash walls to the ground to see the sun. The Boys in Blue can negotiate their way out of any hole, basically.

It is now, of course, five league and championship games since a Dublin player raised a green flag in open play. And yet, by the time of the throw-in of their next league assignment in Ballybofey it will have been over two years since they last tasted defeat.

Peter Harte, left, and Niall Sludden of Tyrone appeal to the referee after a late free is awarded for a foul on Michael Fitzsimons of Dublin.

Tyrone performed as abrasively as we expected. Niall Sludden, in particular, was courageous in his attitude towards offensive plays and was understandably considered the man of the match at full-time.

Yet, Sludden’s form, were it to be maintained, or enhanced, could be of even greater importance to the northerners long-term than is appreciated at present.

The reason for this is very simple: It would release the pressure valve on Peter Harte from the need to be as diligent as he has been, ever so slightly.

Tyrone’s major issue is that Peter Harte is the solution to one too many of their problems.

If a gap needs plugging, Peter Harte is their go-to man.

However, this, ultimately, is counter-productive for obvious reasons.

Peter Harte can operate across the half-back line or half-forward line to effect.

His presence in the half-forward line, though, is of critical value, especially as it is said Tyrone are shy of truly top-class attackers.

Whether that is a fair assessment or not is questionable in itself but they require his services at centre- or wing-forward a hell of a lot more than they do at centre- or wing-back.

Sludden nailed three shots in open play and was incredibly driven during the contest to force Dublin’s half-back line towards their own goal as much as was possible.

If he can replicate that performance on a more regular basis the primary benefactor might well be Peter Harte.

An axis of Sludden and Peter Harte roaming in this sector will cause headaches for opposing defenders as both men are programmed to punch holes with direct runs through the central channels.

Players dedicated to charging in along these lines usually force a high percentage of frees as well, obviously, which is why Tyrone have to iron out the inconsistencies attributed to their place-kicking in order to exploit this particular weapon in their arsenal.

Peter Harte contributed two converted frees to Tyrone’s total of 1-7 but in a championship clash they could generate at least six scoreable free-taking opportunities from this direct running and at least five of those have to lead to white flags.

For all of that, however, Dublin’s in-game ‘process’ continues to yield positive results.

And that ‘process’ is mechanical and measured. The thing is, despite Gavin often stating Dublin are an attacking team deployed to win games and not focus on negating their opponents, you always feel that they are playing within themselves.

There is a gear or two there if so needed. And that’s the scariest element for opposing managers to factor into their tactical calculations.

Donegal will present Dublin with another type of challenge. Nevertheless, Saturday’s draw will have felt like a triumph for Gavin’s outfit.

More than anything else, however, it was a triumph for their methodical approach.

Cork manager Peadar Healy will be ruing the Rebels' profligacy.

Cork’s shooting issues

For the second week in succession, Cork’s shooting let them down in the second-tier of the league structure.

To call a spade, a spade, it’s criminal at the level in question to be as wasteful as the Rebels have been against both Galway and Kildare – they have accumulated 27 wides in the two outings.

A return of one point from the Leesiders’ opening two collisions in the section is not a total disaster for them by any means, though.

However, time dedicated to perfecting their accuracy from various angles wouldn’t go amiss on the training ground between now and the time they host Fermanagh next Sunday week.

Kicking a high number of wides in matches drains a team more than anything else.

It’s not a habit Peadar Healy’s unit will want to concern themselves with for too long.

Still, nobody should panic in Cork. After the next round of fixtures they could well be right back in the promotion mix.


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