Kevin Madden: Red Hands roll back the years with Clones masterclass

Donegal’s Michael Murphy and Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh contest a high ball during yesterday’s Ulster SFC semi-final in Clones. Long kick-outs and aerial contests were a feature of the Red Hands’ win, and their positive approach was refreshing to see Picture by Philip Walsh

WHAT a masterclass by Tyrone, who turned in a performance yesterday that at times reminded me of where Mickey Harte began with the Red Hands in 2003.

There was an uncanny resemblance to the day they beat Kerry up very badly all those years ago.

Tyrone brought a ferocious intensity to Clones that was matched by an updated and much more effective blueprint for success.

Forget for a second just how poor Donegal were. This was a Tyrone performance with a huge difference.

I have criticised the Red Hands for being too predictable in recent seasons, highlighting the absence of an early kicking game and a functional full-forward line.

At times I’ve pointed out their reluctance to push up on the opposition kick-out and wondered why they don’t have a recognised longer kick-out strategy.

Because of those things, I’ve said that they would struggle for scores against quality teams like Donegal, who are well organised at the back.

Yesterday, however, they turned the tables on every single one of those criticisms in emphatic style.

At times the game was like a throw-back to an era we had almost forgotten.

Yes, both teams defended in huge numbers, but it was so refreshing to see long, contested kick-outs and early ball being delivered long into the full-forward lines.

The approach by both sides in relation to their own kick-outs was also as refreshing as it was interesting.

We have almost got used to uncontested and short restarts but both teams tried to push up and both came up with an intention to go long.

Sean Cavanagh’s goal chance in the first half came at the end of a move that was clearly worked out on the training ground.

Tyrone sucked Donegal in whilst leaving Colm Cavanagh isolated. By the time Niall Morgan’s long delivery reached the Tyrone midfielder, only he, Mark Bradley and their two markers were ahead of the ball.

The younger Cavanagh was a prime target for long deliveries and when they worked it gave Tyrone the launchpad for dangerous attacks.

When you go long and win it the other team have fewer men back.

When you go short and build you have 13 or 14 players to get past.

The goal chance missed by Eoin McHugh also came as a result of a long kick-out.

During the first half when the game was tight, Donegal tested Tyrone’s defensive system by pushing an extra forward in on top of Colm Cavanagh which often meant they had four men across their full-forward line.

At 0-5 apiece it looked like anyone’s game but a series of critical mistakes by Donegal – ball coughed up in the tackle and forwards not winning their own ball – handed the Red Hands the initiative and they punished their opponents.

Tyrone’s first half performance was as ruthless as anything produced by Mickey Harte’s team in a very long time.

Their shot-to-score ratio was over 90 per cent with some breathtaking points scored and another couple of very good goal chances missed.

But as I purred over Tyrone’s brilliance, I equally felt that Donegal’s defending was really poor.

When an opponent enters their defensive ‘50’ you normally expect Donegal to meet them with intense tackling, meaning any shots conceded are taken under immense pressure.

The attitude to Padraig Hampsey’s first point was to ‘let him shoot, he’s only the corner-back’.

In fact, that seemed to be the attitude to most Tyrone attacks as they slotted over point after point under little pressure.

Donegal defended far too deep and the impressive Niall Sludden had a field day.

As the game wore on Donegal’s defending got worse and they could have shipped four or five goals had it not been for Mark Anthony McGinley.

Kieran McGeary’s second half point was a great example of really poor defending.

Tyrone came up the right wing with Donegal moving 10 players over to press.

In doing so they left the opposite wing completely open for the Tyrone man to ghost in unmarked and unchallenged to score.

There was no communication, no organisation.

Tiernan McCann’s goal was another example. The move started with a Tyrone free in their own full-back line, so Donegal had their numbers back.

But the way McCann skipped in for his goal without shipping even one tackle was poor.

That said, it was great to see Tyrone playing instinctive, attractive football which married a nice balance of early kick-passing and incisive running.

Mattie Donnelly’s long delivery to Mark Bradley in the first minute set the tone for a new approach. The runs and deliveries were impressive but so was the fact that the ball was arriving in dangerous areas and not out near the sideline.

Tyrone are in a different place now. A much healthier place. A better positioned place. Write them off at your peril.

I MADE the trip to Markievicz Park on Saturday evening in the hope that Antrim could cause a minor upset.

With a strong-looking forward line and a resolute defensive plan, for 45 minutes the Saffrons frustrated Sligo and hit some excellent long-range points from the likes of Conor Murray and Tomas McCann.

Although it was difficult to watch at times, especially the blatant concession of kick-outs, Antrim’s approach meant Sligo were badly running out of ideas as they were forced to move the ball laterally and their forwards had little space to operate in.

Mark Sweeney played the sweeper role very well and his influence negated Sligo’s ability to kick early ball inside.

Playing against the wind, the two goals at the beginning of the second half put Antrim four points up and in the driving seat, but for some reason we pushed up high, man-to-man, on the next couple of Sligo kick-outs, one of which led directly to a score.

Conor Murray was the stand-out player in the first half but Sligo reacted to this as Neil Ewing was handed a man-marking job after the break.

But the big turning point came with the dismissal of Jack Dowling immediately after the first goal.

There didn’t seem to be an awful lot in the incident from where I was positioned and I felt the ball was there to be won by the Antrim man.

To our detriment we continued with the sweeper, which resulted in Sligo always having an overlap and with the wind at their backs they were able to work easy scoring chances.

This had a knock-on effect which eventually led to the black card for Antrim’s most important player in Sweeney (left), who was being met with a tsunami of Sligo attacks, which resulted in 12 points without reply.

Antrim scored three goals and could easily have had five.

When it was 15 against 15 it was anybody’s game, but Antrim had little hope when they went a man down and the defeat brought the curtain down on a very disappointing season.

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