Kevin Madden column: Tyrone and Dublin are miles ahead as gap at the top widens
AS we reflect on two anticlimactic quarter-finals it is hard not to lament just how poor and off the pace Armagh and Monaghan both were.
The gap at the top is widening and with three or four teams miles ahead of the rest it doesn’t bode well for the Super 8s next season.
But amid the frustration of these non-events, it is also quite easy to conjure up some serious adulation for the quality of both Dublin and Tyrone.
Comparing the technical ability of teams and players is a subjective exercise, but when it comes to rating the effectiveness of the gameplan it is much simpler.
In this regard, Tyrone and Dublin were light years ahead.
From their first nine efforts, Tyrone managed to score an impressive 1-6.
During that period, Armagh had five attempts at goal but converted just one point.
At first glance the words ‘efficiency’ and ‘ruthless’ spring to mind, but it is also important to analyse just how easy, or in Armagh’s case how difficult, most of those scoring chances actually were.
This is where the effectiveness of each side’s defensive gameplan came into play.
Mark Bradley got his two scores early on from the 14- and 21-yard lines. Then Peter Harte won a free in front of goal on the 21-yard line and Declan McClure kicked another point from the 14.
Colm Cavanagh and Tiernan McCann hit two long range efforts but the other 1-4, dare I say it, were all ‘penalty kicks.’
In contrast, bar the very first shot by Rory Grugan, all those other missed Armagh attempts were pot shots under serious pressure from distance.
When Jamie Clarke beats three defenders 25 yards from goal, the very least you’d expect would be a handy free.
But in this case, Tiernan McCann showed a serious turn of pace to make up the ground and strip him of the ball.
The one time that Mark Shields got in close to goal for a score I happened to notice that the three Armagh players closest to the Tyrone posts in that move were actually wearing the numbers 4, 5, and 6 respectively on their backs.
Armagh had little success running the ball, but they also had a poor shape to their attack and how they really missed the presence and ball-winning ability of Andrew Murnin.
Tyrone also counteracted the Armagh kick-out brilliantly and made it very difficult for Orchard goalkeeper Blaine Hughes to find those pockets of space that he was able to pick in the Kildare and Tipperary games.
The key for Tyrone was not allowing too many men to get sucked inside the 50 and, at the same time, cover the wide areas further out and protect the space behind the midfield.
The forwards set up zonally and split into two lines of three and four to make the short kick-out difficult.
Behind that they had three stretched across the middle to cover the space for a placed kick. Behind that again sat another two Tyrone players in the event he would try and go very long over the top. All bases were covered and the ‘honey-trap’ worked a treat.
In contrast, Armagh conceded the Tyrone kick-outs far too easily and when they did press up they pushed so high that it left them very vulnerable to the long one over the top.
The brilliant Peter Harte should have had a goal on one such occasion in the first half. It was strange that Armagh didn’t dedicate any one player to get into his face and man-mark him. I found this very surprising, given how elusive he is.
Harte’s pace, power and timing of the runs are on a different level, so rotating markers and letting the nearest man pick him up was a complete fail.
Once again the Tyrone bench, and David Mulgrew in particular, made a major contribution.
The pin-point diagonal ball by Niall Sludden for the first goal was top class, as was both of his finishes.
In their four Championship games to date, the Tyrone subs’ bench has contributed an impressive 4-12. That’s exactly what we have been lauding Dublin for over the last number of years, so it is a huge positive that they now have those type of ‘game-changers’ to spring from the bench.
IT was clear from early in the second quarter-final game on Saturday that Monaghan would adopt a route one game, testing the Dublin full-back line with some long high deliveries.
But if that was the plan then why did they not play Kieran Hughes in there?
Neither Jack McCarron nor Conor McManus are particularly strong in the air, so lumping high ball in was a pointless exercise that just didn’t work.
Philly McMahon ate up all those buns quite easily as Cian O’Sullivan scooped up the crumbs.
With Conor McManus tied up and Jack McCarron misfiring, Monaghan had little to trouble them in attack.
By the time the excellent Conor McCarthy came on the contest was over.
But the most disappointing thing from a Monaghan perspective was how ineffective their defending was and the passive nature of the tackling.
The last Dublin point of the first half perfectly highlights this. The move started with a Cian O’Sullivan free just after the 33-minute mark.
Dublin kept the ball for a full two minutes as they switched the ball over and back around a packed Monaghan defence before O’Sullivan slipped the pass to James McCarthy to score.
Dublin used the pitch well and had great width to their game, but during those two minutes not a single hand was laid on any player.
That was a very notable trend during the game that, no matter what defensive shape Monaghan had in place, Dublin would still prise an opening with consummate ease.
Sitting off and inviting Dublin to break their 50-yard line was a tactic that failed badly.
There was no energy or manic aggression to the Monaghan game and after the opening 15 minutes it was clear the belief was also gone.
Meanwhile, the question we all want to know is this: Has Mickey Harte been secretly plotting something different to take down the Dubs?
In next week’s column, I will be giving my thoughts on why I believe Tyrone are good enough to beat Dublin – but only if they show the courage to tweak the current gameplan.