Twelve months ago against Mayo in the famous ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ Qualifier, quality Kildare forwards like Niall Kelly, Paddy Brophy, Paul Cribben, and Daniel Flynn were inspirational. All were absent last Saturday. Kildare lost their pivotal inside forward, Ben McCormack after 11 minutes. Hamstring.
The Kildare half-forwards allowed the Tyrone half-back trio of Cassidy, McGeary, and Burns to set the tempo. Another outsider, Cavan, will attempt to stop Tyrone’s marauding defence and their lone ranger, Cathal McShane, this weekend. Cavan need to go on the front-foot.
Cavan won’t afford Tyrone the same luxuries on their kickouts, surely? Niall Morgan must have been perplexed at what was happening in front of him. Kildare completely switched off every time Morgan put the ball on the tee. He had so many options. Short to the left or right. A chipped kick into the D where centre-back Kieran McGeary always seemed to find himself unopposed.
The Tyrone roaming corner-forward Conor Meyler had no shackles put on him. He sauntered freely up the field for countless Tyrone restarts. Niall Morgan had nine successful restarts in the first half. They scored three points as a direct result and had three other unsuccessful attempts. At any level, you cannot allow the opposition easy restarts.
What was worse for the Kildare management and supporters was the lack of effort at winning the ball back. The Kildare team had only one proper tackle in the first half. I repeat only one, which came in the third minute of injury time from Jimmy Hyland. That’s a really bad reflection on Kildare’s appetite.
Mickey Graham will have noticed this too and must insist that his forwards tackle relentlessly against Tyrone. Kildare did intercept a few loose Tyrone kick-passes but they completely lacked any real championship bite. No thundering hits. Not a single block on any Tyrone kicks. They allowed Tyrone to carry the ball uncontested into their half.
They made a defensive ring but got no hands on the Tyrone attackers. Michael Cassidy, Rory Brennan, Colm Cavanagh and the brilliant Frank Burns, four Tyrone defenders, scored without a glove being laid on them. Lack of communication and an ability to read the game cost the Lillywhites dearly. So too did the lack of half-time analysis.
I’m sure the Kildare statisticians were able to tell their forwards about their lack of pressing in the first half. Their response? Niall Morgan had 11 restarts in the second half. Kildare improved slightly. They won one of 11. Unbelievable really that the Kildare players didn’t force Tyrone to kick it longer.
You would have backed Kevin Feeley, Fergal Conway, and substitute Tommy Moolick to break even in the middle third, especially as the gigantic Brian Kennedy had left the pitch after 20 minutes. It was all very odd. Kildare failed to grasp this potential height opportunity and failed to turn the game into a scrap.
Cavan cannot let Niall Morgan dictate the game with unpressurised kick-outs. They must turn next Saturday’s game into a dogfight around the middle third. They have already experienced successful midfield battles against Monaghan and Armagh this summer. They encountered a bruising battle against Donegal a few weeks ago and they have to learn from this.
The opportunity to break even with Tyrone in the middle third is a very realistic target for Cavan, as is the opportunity to score goals. Cavan have will have studied the patterns of the Tyrone defence and will know that any lateral play will allow Colm Cavanagh and Kieran McGeary to protect their full back line and the double axis of Burns/Harte and Cassidy/Donnelly to ‘shut up shop’ in the Tyrone half-back line.
Kildare had an obvious lack of belief up front and a clear lack of creativity in the half-forward line. Keith Cribben, Chris Healy and David Slattery are normally very energetic workers who empty the tank. On Saturday, instead of trying to stop Tyrone at source they retreated and allowed a footballing Tyrone half-back line to control the game and punch holes in the Kildare defence.
Cavan half-forwards Martin Reilly, Dara McVeety, and Oisin Kieran will have learned a lot from Kildare’s deficiencies. They’re not as physically imposing as the Tyrone half-backs but they will offset this with their speed and their speed of thought.
In truth, Tyrone should have been more than four points ahead with eight minutes to play (1-17 to 1-13). Morgan is a confident keeper but not a consistent free-taker. The defensive spine of McGeary and McNamee are good footballers but not good one-on-one defenders. If they were good defenders, they wouldn’t need numerous extra defenders helping them continuously.
Conor Meyler is a playmaker when given time and space. Niall Sludden will engineer frees if you attempt to tackle him. The probable All Star nominee, Cathal McShane, was screaming for long ball to be pumped into him on Saturday. Tyrone only obliged him on a few occasions.
Cavan have had a perfect dry-run against Donegal in how to counter a blanket defence. They weren’t adventurous enough in the Ulster final. They have one final shot at keeping their season alive. Cavan have a blueprint to navigate through the Red Hands.
They can’t show fear and unlike Kildare, they must adopt the policy of two steps forward and only one step back.