When I come up to Celtic Park, it always takes me back to the times I played up there. I absolutely loved playing at this place. The setting for the game, the surface, the atmosphere around the place all make it a brilliant place to play Gaelic football. So I went up there yesterday expecting a hell of a lot from Derry, even if it was only a bit of blood and guts.
Even to start a row.
You could even turn back to what Armagh did against Cavan two years ago when they started something in the parade at the Athletic Grounds. Now, I know people don’t want to see that, but the point is, I expected more of Derry. More intensity. I expected them to get up and into Tyrone’s faces, but it was obvious from early on that it wasn’t going to happen.
Some of the reasons why it didn’t happen? I genuinely think Tyrone are a proper inter-county GAA team. There are probably only about seven or eight of them left in the country that are really operating at maximum pace, that everything is in place for them to go and be successful. They have all the structures, but Mickey Harte has changed things since the game against Mayo in the league last year.
Structurally, they look really sound at the back now. When we used to play against that Tyrone team from ’03 through to ’05, one thing was their half-backs used to break at will when the ball went into the middle of the field.
They didn’t care what happened behind them, even though they had no protection.
It’s different today. Look at the half-back line Mickey Harte picked for yesterday. Tiernan McCann, Niall Sludden, and Peter Harte. They all bomb forward at will, but they know there is plenty of protection behind them and they knew this weekend that Derry weren’t going to cause them any problems.
One thing that continually grates about modern Gaelic football is how often you see forwards on the back foot. From the very start yesterday, the Derry half-forward line was doing that. Tyrone’s fitness levels are huge. Not just that, but they look more physically fit than Derry, although there’s still a few questions about Tyrone that have to be answered.
I’m still not sure about their full-forward line. Connor McAliskey and Darren McCurry are very alike and you could add Ronan O’Neill to that as well. Now, I picked O’Neill out yesterday before the game because he was after a very good league. He needs to be playing consistently and then he gets that bit of confidence and games where he will get 1-3, or 2-2 like he did yesterday.
Sean Cavanagh was quiet enough, but he is an experienced enough player to do enough to get through a game like this and reserve it for when it’s really needed. Tyrone were impressive yesterday, mostly, but you would still have to qualify that by saying that Derry were absolutely shocking. You couldn’t say they were in any way useful.
They set up with a defensive shape, like Armagh against Donegal last year.
Armagh had 11 players behind the ball that day. Donegal kicked in a high 50-50 ball between James Morgan and Paddy McBrearty and Donegal ended up scoring a goal. That was a little bit like the first goal for Tyrone yesterday. Oisin Duffy was stuck in on O’Neill on his own and one simple ball over the top was all it took.
One of the things that Tyrone have to watch out for is that they have been really inconsistent from free-kicks.
Same thing in the Division Two final against Cavan. They had six different free-takers that day and they scored 40%. Here they scored two out of five. 40% again. The top teams are scoring 80-90%.
That may bite them as time goes on. If they can sort that out, then they are a force to be reckoned with.
I said at the start of the year that Tyrone are a team that can win an Ulster Championship and they are probably a bit better than I gave them credit for.
An All-Ireland? I still don’t think so.
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