OISIN MCCONVILLE: With everything in place, Monaghan’s challenge is all in the head

Manchester City win the league hitting the 100-point mark, 18 points more than Manchester United and 25 more than Liverpool and yet City haven’t been able to beat either in recent games. 

The New England Patriots’ quarter-back Tom Brady is the greatest NFL player of all time and yet whenever he comes up against the Miami Dolphins, one of the worst teams in the league, he has a mental block.

Sport throws up these contradictions all the time and there is the possibility of another in Omagh tomorrow. Monaghan have better players than Tyrone but psychologically they have a problem with their neighbours, winning just one of their last five Championship meetings and even that one victory in 2014 was a struggle.

Tyrone have picked them off quite easily and the Monaghan public will find it very difficult to believe, as many do, that they can beat Tyrone on this occasion. 

There’s a defeatist attitude and in a small county like Monaghan that reverberates everywhere including through the squad.

If Malachy O’Rourke was truthful, I reckon he’d say this is the one draw he didn’t want. Monaghan’s challenge here is all in the head and there is no sports psychologist out there who is going to change that, only themselves.

Because they have everything else in place. They, like Tyrone, will have designs on Ulster and they have more quality going to Healy Park. There’s Conor McManus obviously, Jack McCarron and Conor McCarthy, who carried UCD to a Sigerson Cup win. 

He should be a far more confident player this year and looks to be a part of the furniture compared to last year when he was a bit-part player. He would provide a solid foil to McManus, although McCarron still needs to prove himself at Championship level.

Monaghan are very good defensively and that’s not a myth. Tyrone too are tricky to break down but Monaghan will have chances to put the ball in long. Tyrone, for me, are too one-dimensional and losing the physicality of Seán Cavanagh up front hurts them further. If Mark Bradley and Lee Brennan start it will be the smallest full-forward line in the country.

The main thing is Tyrone’s armoury is their ability to carry the ball but then there is a question over the fitness of Colm Cavanagh, who is so key to everything they do.

I’ve seen both sides of Tyrone this year — the team devoid of ideas and laborious in their intent and the team that has looked extremely fresh and going in the right direction.

It goes without saying what Mickey Harte has done in the game but every time I look at them I feel they could benefit from a new approach. Whether that’s a new manager or just Harte doing things a completely different way, it’s needed.

Tyrone now remind me of where Donegal had been only Tyrone didn’t win an All-Ireland in that period. Is their football good enough to win an All-Ireland? No. They find themselves in a similar situation to Mayo in that should they go into the qualifiers they will find it so tough to go all the way.

Combating their demons is one thing but Monaghan must also ensure they’re not too rigid, something which they have been accused of in the past. Kieran Hughes will provide the example in that regard. Like his brother Darren, he can play in a variety of positions and he should do that tomorrow, maybe go into the full-forward line for a play or two and come out. It’s all about keeping Tyrone on their toes and maybe putting some of them in awkward spots like taking Tiernan McCann into the corner. Keeping that Tyrone half-back line on the back foot will be essential.

McManus has been bottled up against Monaghan before and he too could benefit from some time out on the half-forward-line and it doesn’t need O’Rourke to make that call — the players can do it themselves. 

Dublin and Kerry have shown that they can move guys around after on-field discussions and Monaghan need to be able to do the same without destabilising themselves.

Either of the Hughes and Niall Kearns will give Monaghan a platform in midfield. Monaghan were clever with how they used Darren during the league because for a man of relatively young age he has a lot of football years already done and he had to be played a little more sparingly.

For Tyrone, Brennan has the capability of improving their free-taking situation drastically. Remember a couple of years ago when they were converting only 30%/40% of their chances, which was 50% behind the likes of Dublin, Mayo and Kerry. 

They mightn’t have lost a close game last year but it definitely was the breaking of them in seasons before that.

I would have called for Brennan to play last year based on his expertise from dead-balls. 

I think Niall Morgan has to be relieved completely of those duties. In the long run, it’s proven not to have worked out.

Then again, if Brennan doesn’t play do Tyrone go back to the old way of four or five different players taking frees and the ball being passed around like a hot potato if somebody misses? 

For Tyrone fans, that’s a thought that should send a shiver down their spines.


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