Tyrone will get physical against Farney - Donnelly

Former Tyrone mentor Tony Donnelly

FORMER Tyrone mentor Tony Donnelly has hailed Monaghan as one of the best defensive teams in the country.

Monaghan restricted Donegal to just 10 points in last month’s Ulster final and Donnelly reckons that Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke will have planned another defensive masterclass for Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final against the Red Hands.

“Monaghan will feel that they can curtail our scoring threat. They will think that 12 or 13 points will be enough,” said Donnelly.

In last Sunday’s round four Qualifier against Galway, Odhrán MacNiallais (0-3), Patrick McBrearty (1-1), Michael Murphy (0-1) and Colm McFadden (0-3) scored 1-8 from play. But in the provincial decider against Monaghan, Patrick McBrearty was the only member of the aforementioned quartet who landed a score. While McBrearty hit 0-2, MacNiallais, Murphy and McFadden failed to raise a flag.

“Monaghan’s man-to-man marking is possibly the best in the country,” said Donnelly. “They have [Drew] Wylie and [Colin] Walshe and they will be looking to tie down Tyrone’s inside men. They have been effective at that in the past. Fintan Kelly and Vinny Corey are all given jobs and they do their jobs so well.”

Having watched Monaghan nullify Donegal’s attack, Donnelly believes that Tyrone’s inside forwards will have limited room to manoeuvre. Although Darren McCurry posted 0-3 from play against Sligo, Donnelly reckons Tyrone can’t afford to rely too heavily on their sharpshooters.

“Because of the nature of that Monaghan full-back line, it mightn’t be a fantastic option to kick it inside all the time. We will need to score from further out the field and not just the inside line,” he said.

As Mickey Harte’s right-hand man for the county’s All-Ireland triumphs in 2005 and 2008, Donnelly has witnessed how the qualifiers can be used as a launch pad for All-Ireland success.

Donnelly is convinced that Tyrone are on an “upward curve”. Commenting on the team’s victories over Limerick, Meath, Tipperary and Sligo, he said: “The performances levels are going up. In ’08, we were sort of dogs of war. We dug out results. You had Ricey [Ryan McMenamin] and the rest. We did whatever it took to get over the line. We hung on. This year, I can see the improvement. I can see their system of play getting better. Their transition play is getting better. Their attacking play is improving.”

While Tyrone established a decent defensive system in the League, their shortcomings centred on their inability to create and finish scores. Donnelly uses the term ‘transition’ to describe the process of moving the ball from defence to attack. After watching his native county post 0-19 against Tipperary and 0-21 against Sligo, Donnelly believes Tyrone are becoming a more cohesive attacking force.

“There were signs of us getting better against Tipperary, especially in the second half. They’d force the turnover, then there was a quick break.

“You had guys like Tiernan McCann and Peter Harte who are not only fast, but they have unbelievable endurance as well. Then you have Seán [Cavanagh] who now has a roving role. He is interchanging with Mark Bradley. Against Tipperary, ‘Skeet’ [Connor McAliskey] was the main man on the scoreboard. Last weekend, Darren [McCurry] took up the mantle against Sligo.”

Although Donnelly was impressed with Tyrone’s attacking display against Sligo, he raised concerns about the concession of 0-14.

“It was disappointing to ship 14 points against Sligo. I think we will need to get back to the aggressive type of defending which we employed against Donegal. I think we will get that against Monaghan. I think it will be a physical and aggressive type of game. It will also be a fascinating football game,” he said.

Despite his optimism, Donnelly also sounded a note of caution. While recognising the signs of improvement, he said that Monaghan will present a much stiffer challenge than any of the teams which Tyrone have met in the qualifiers.

“There is no weight of expectation on this Tyrone squad. But I think bit by bit, people are becoming more encouraged by our progress. I would prefix all that by saying that we haven’t met one of the top teams yet. The next game will show how good we are.”


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