Tomás Quinn on four key areas to watch for Dublin V Tyrone
Mickey Harte will have a number of key targets and not conceding scorable frees will be the highest on his agenda.
Think back to the league encounter between these two sides in early February. Tyrone led 1-7 to 0-5 after 60 minutes and looked on course to be the team to halt the Dublin unbeaten run. However, down to 14 men — Mark Bradley had been sent off for an off-the-ball incident with Jonny Cooper — Tyrone couldn’t withstand the Dublin onslaught. Tyrone didn’t force Dublin forwards to kick scores from play to catch them. Three of Dublin’s scores in those last few minutes came from Dean Rock frees, including the equaliser, from over 50 metres.
So far, in their four championship games, Dublin have averaged seven points a game from dead balls. Rock is normally the main man with these, but Con O’Callaghan showed he is also more than capable, if required. He hit six frees against Kildare in the Leinster final, after Rock was black-carded. Tyrone will look to be aggressive defensively, but mindful they cannot allow Dublin seven points from placed balls.
Not conceding frees against Dublin can often be easier said than done; when they get runners coming at pace, off the shoulder, at a defender, it can be extremely difficult to stop them, legally. How the game is refereed by David Coldrick will dictate how physical Tyrone can be in the tackle. Tyrone normally look for the first defender to engage the forward, attempt to slow him up or turn him, and then the second defender goes for the strip or turnover.
STYLE OF PLAY
Many aspects of this game whet the appetite. How both teams deal with the opposition’s system and tactics is something that many club (and intercounty) coaches and managers will be there to see.
This season, Tyrone’s attacking game plan has evolved to an extremely high level. They have averaged 23 points in their four championship matches. The foundation has been a defensive system that retreats 13 players back inside their half, compressing the space in which opposition forwards have to operate. In the past few seasons, they were a high-level defensive team, but could be hit or miss when breaking into attack. Now, they have a much clearer understanding of the role each player has when they do force a turnover. There is a freedom for the likes of Petey Harte, Tiernan McCann, and Mattie Donnelly to play as the strike runners, with the knowledge that a Colm Cavanagh or Conall McCann is covering behind. Add the ball-playing ability and confidence of the likes of Niall Sludden and Padraig Hampsey, and Mickey Harte is getting close to the kind of mix he had with the likes of Brian McGuigan, Enda McGinley, et al.
From a Dublin perspective, we know they like to line up in a more traditional structure and to move the ball at pace into their forwards to create chances. The semi-final loss to Donegal, in 2014, has been referenced a lot in the build-up to this game, as a warning to Dublin, but, for me, they have progressed far since then. The attacking mindset and desire to play open football still remain, but Dublin of 2014 looked to steamroll teams and keep rolling and rolling at pace. Over the past few seasons, they have added nuances to their attacking style.
When a team sits bodies back, they are more content to be patient and to move the ball across the pitch to work an opening.
They also keep real width when attacking, making the pitch as big as possible to ensure defences have to worry about all the spaces.
The challenge, this weekend, will be for Dublin to avoid the trap of mimicking Tyrone too much, not being lateral in their possession for the sake of it. They need to find the right balance of patience and know when to attack an area, or a defender, when the Tyrone rearguard isn’t fully set. They will need to avoid taking the ball into contact and keep their turnovers to a minimum.
I’ve already referenced the lessons for Dublin from the 2014 semi-final defeat. The starkest reminders from that game will come on the Tyrone kick-out. While Dublin will have a better structure, defensively, in open play they still like to press up on the kick-outs to stop the opposition going short. Forcing a team long is usually considered a win, but watching Tyrone in the quarter-final, when Armagh looked to press on their kick-out, was reminiscent of the Donegal of years past. Niall Morgan looked to go as long as possible and the Tyrone jumper had no intention of catching, but sought to flick the ball on into the space behind for a runner to break onto at pace, leaving a footrace to the goal. Twice, Tyrone created goal chances using this tactic and it is something Donegal caught Dublin with.
Tyrone must decide whether to challenge Stephen Cluxton on his restarts, and how often. In the past, Tyrone have been content to allow opposition keepers go short, as they retreat into their defensive set-up, letting opponents carry the ball from the back. Tyrone then engage, once they enter their half.
That may be acceptable against other teams, but I don’t expect Mickey Harte to allow Dublin a full game of uncontested kick-outs. So, look for them to press, at times, and for their forwards to be active in their body language and movement to create doubt for Cluxton.
We know Dublin will have impact off the bench. Depending on the team selected to start, the Dublin subs to feature will likely include Brogan, Flynn, Macauley, McManamon, O’Gara, and possibly Diarmuid Connolly. Dublin have proven, time and again, they will finish strong and have closed out games exceptionally well over the past three seasons. Jim Gavin has instilled a belief that it may take 74 or 75 minutes before they hit the front and it is often his reinforcements who are involved in the critical plays.
One of Tyrone’s biggest improvements, this year, has been the depth of their squad. With their hard-running style, they know they need fresh injections of energy and quality to help maintain their game plan.
One of the primary reasons their scoring average is so high is they are bringing in high-quality forwards in the final quarter, against tired defences. In both their Ulster final win and quarter-final victories, a sub has come on and contributed two goals — Ronan O’Neill against Down, and then David Mulgrew against Armagh. Darren McCurry is another finisher, with Conor Meyler, Cathal McShane, and Justin McMahon all players who will seamlessly fit into the counter-attack system.
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