Our five-time All-Ireland-winning columnist expects Mickey Harte’s defensive set-up to frustrate Dublin.
There isn’t enough at the top end of the field, though, for Tyrone to halt the four in a row
Hampsey on Kilkenny…or Fenton
Whoever Padraig Hampsey pairs off with this afternoon at Croke Park, it is a lock to be the match-up of the final. Why? Because Hampsey will be detailed to mark the Dublin player Mickey Harte sees as the greatest threat to Tyrone’s fourth All-Ireland title.
Hampsey’s shown he’s up to the task. In fact he’s proved he’s up to several tasks if so assigned. I was in Ballybofey for Tyrone’s visit and in Croke Park for their semi-final against Monaghan.
The Coalisland man has that easy versatility you find in a boxing champion, which he was. He can go tight or stand off. He was on Michael Murphy against Donegal, but he’s not your blinkers-on, don’t-care-if-I-never-see-the-ball sort of player. He makes good decisions and he’s not rash.
I was even more impressed with that aspect of his game marking Ciarán McManus in the semi-final.
Only one of McManus’ seven points came from play. Hampsey was very disciplined. For a relatively young player his decision-making is very good. Sometimes when he recognises he cannot get to the ball first he has great confidence in his ability to stand a player up.
He can deal with an out and out scorer, and also someone with the range of ball-playing ability like a Michael Murphy around the middle of the field.
So who does he pick up? Tyrone have an issue with Brian Fenton and the Dublin central area if Colm Cavanagh is going to play deep. Tiernan McCann may be detailed to pick up Ciarán Kilkenny, the man who makes Dublin tick, but I suspect Mickey Harte will hand that job to Hampsey.
Kilkenny is the trigger in the final third of the field for Dublin. Mickey Harte will have made the Dublin playmaker the subject of the most rigorous video analysis in the past two weeks. Hampsey has proven he is capable of doing a job anywhere from No 2 to 9 but today Hampsey’s detail is specifics. He is full value for an All-Star, but he might even push himself into a different category if he shuts down a Dublin talisman this afternoon.
Tyrone’s compact set up
Sit deep and soak it up, or go hell for leather after the Dubs? Mickey Harte’s strategies will essentially make or break Tyrone’s challenge. A man for the small detail, Harte has scrutinised Dublin’s kicking efficiency, or in modern day lingo, the heat map of where they score from. It’s primarily out-to-in running, off the shoulder, and converting from pretty central areas. Dublin won’t kick from acute angles or five yards in from the sideline.
Mickey Harte knows Tyrone have to be there or thereabouts at half-time, hence he must traffic up that central corridor early and avoid repeating the errors of last year’s semi-final.
A year ago even though they played with bodies back, they were not compacted uniformly, which is 15 yards right, left and straight ahead of the semi-circle. Once Dublin aren’t scoring from central positions, Tyrone should be happy enough. Jack McCaffrey, Con O’Callaghan, James McCarthy and Ciaran Kilkenny coming onto ball is an appalling vista for a Tyrone supporter but Harte will surely have learned from last year.
Fine, if Dublin are capable of kicking 20 points from the prairies, fair dues. But the stats will also inform Tyrone management that Dublin are not kicking the ball as frequently this summer.
Tyrone will prime themselves like a curved wall around that semi-circle, assured that Dublin’s runners are heading into plenty of Sunday traffic. That is the most fascinating aspect: If Tyrone set up compact, how do Dublin get the ball in as quick as they need to to unhinge the Tyrone set up? I expect a Dublin counter-ploy. Either way, the superior strategy will be instructive.
Colm Cavanagh’s role
Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly may not walk as much as crawl off the Croke Park pitch. Their graft around midfield is the unseen element of the successful deployment of Colm Cavanagh in a deep-lying, sweeper role. Whoever is chosen to partner Brian Fenton in midfield for Dublin will form a partnership built on outstanding mobility - something the named Tyrone midfield cannot match.
Cavanagh is primed for a battle, not a midfield match-up, and to neutralise an obvious Dublin advantage here, the likes of McShane and Donnelly will have to spend 70 minutes and more in the trenches.
Cavanagh, meanwhile, will drop in and use his experience without the ball and his nous with it. As soon as the kickouts are heading out of his constituency he is back-pedalling and setting himself up in that middle sweeping sector. There’s an obvious pay-off here: Who keeps the Dublin midfield honest, because coughing up ball to Dublin is a fast-track to disaster.
Tyrone will need at least 60% of the ball — you can’t hope to beat Dublin with anything less — and I’m not sure Tyrone have the adaptability to do it. Whatever chance Tyrone have, it demands that Colm Cavanagh is more than a protector; that he is a problem for Dublin in the offensive half of the field is crucial.
If Tyrone are relying on turnovers alone — which is what their gameplan traditionally preys on — they’re in bother. Dublin don’t run down blind alleys, and they won’t cough up double-figure turnovers.
Asking Dublin questions
Mickey Harte has proven his ability time and again to pull something from the bottom of the deck. We are looking for the same this afternoon but his hand looks limited. Tyrone don’t have enough quality to take down the Dubs. They are a very functional outfit now. Not alone do they not have a marquee forward, they don’t have an obvious outlet/target in the full-forward line. There’s been some debate — driven by desperation in some quarters — that Dublin’s full back line is vulnerable to the aerial assault.
In fact, I think there’s something in that. I’d be intrigued to see McMahon, Fitzsimons and Cooper back pedalling in and around the square had Tyrone that sort of threat in their locker. Unless Harte goes full rogue and puts Colm Cavanagh into that scenario, it’s a potential Dublin chink we won’t see exploited.
They don’t have a Mulligan, Kevin Hughes or Sean Cavanagh to go in there for 20 minutes unfortunately.
All-Ireland Sunday may be the day we see Jim Gavin’s players turn it on. They haven’t been peppering this summer like before. Maybe that’s their innate reaction to a changed environment. No Kerry, no Mayo and while Galway and Monaghan have made strides, they’re not challenging the champions. The Dubs are so good now they are getting through games at 90% which is what they were saying about Kerry in 1981 and the fatal 1982 five-in-a-row campaign.
Perhaps these are the reasons there are 25,000 missing fans on semi-final days. Mannion and O’Callaghan are a year older and more mature, Howard and Scully have stepped up and strengthened the mix. The end might come soon for the odd individual player, but it doesn’t look threatening for the group, not least because the challenge this summer from the chasing pack has been less than robust.
Surely every team has a weakness?
You’d be a fair long day identifying Dublin’s. Their defence unity and solidity has been outstanding. Jim Gavin will identify and clamp the likes of Peter Harte and Niall Sludden. John Small on Harte.
Dublin will target Tyrone’s key utility man Sludden, maybe with Eoin Murchan, maybe not. Fitzsimons and McMahon will feel capable of handling the danger inside. Some scoffed at Mayo’s attacking punch over the last few years, but they had Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor delivering.
Conor McAliskey is still hit and miss, but is Tyrone’s top scorer in the championship with 2-38, 0-23 from frees. Peter Harte is next with 2-14. Sludden and Harte need career performances, punching holes in Dublin’s defence, breaching their half back line and getting a look at what Cluxton has in front of him.
Niall Sludden is a lovely player, but I feel he struggles in Tyrone’s offensive set-up. He doesn’t have targets to hit inside. He has lovely feet, he can see a pass, take a score in position, but when he receives possession, he doesn’t have too many options.
Get busy living or get busy dying
Tyrone must come out and play. Trust they have a stable defensive unit. It’s not in their nature, but on a couple of occasions, two or three times in each half, they are going to have to go after Dublin.
Like actually go after Dublin. They did it in the final ten minutes in Omagh when circumstances forced them to.
This time, it must be on their terms. You’ve to pick your poison with Dublin. If you go full court press and someone screws up their assignment or loses their man, you are in trouble.
Weighing all this up, the relevance of Tyrone winning their last three finals is totally lost on me. The calibre of player in 2018 is nothing to what Canavan, Dooher, Mulligan and Brian McGuigan brought to the table against us in 2005 and 2008. Tyrone have got to stay in the game to half time.
That’s Base Camp 1, which they failed to get to last year. Get them into the dressing room, at worst a few points down. The Tyrone players have incredible confidence in their conditioning.
In Ballybofey, I could see they were bombing at the end of the game. The Tyrone players have always believed they are at least the second-best team in Ireland. They will match Dublin for conditioning, but not in other vital areas.
The likes of Padraig Hampsey could have a huge game shutting down a Kilkenny or Fenton, and Tyrone could still get hammered.
Their structure has got them to a final. That’s as far as it will take them.
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