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Kevin Madden: Tyrone's plan to topple Dublin requires fine balancing act

Tyrone may have to tweak their rigid gameplay if they are to defeat Dublin in their All-Ireland semi-final in less than two weeks 

There’s not much point in beating about the bush this week. It’s time to engage in some serious football talk. We are on the cusp of the most eagerly anticipated Championship game in quite some time, so the question on most people’s lips right now is: Do Tyrone have the game to beat Dublin?  

To contest or not contest

I suppose the big question here is will both teams contest the opposition’s kick-out? I think they will want to at different stages and this is how they will go about it. It was really interesting to watch the approach in the respective quarter-finals when Tyrone and Dublin both adopted almost identical strategies. 

To go completely man-to-man on kick-outs in Croke Park is both a futile and dangerous approach. Against Armagh, when they chose to contest, Tyrone played in a line of three, splitting across their full-forward line, a line of three or four across their half-forward line, three across the middle and behind that were two free sweepers to guard against the long ball over the top. 

Each player was responsible for an area rather than a specific player so it prevents people being pulled all over the big wide open spaces. But it is important to realise that this shape was possible because Armagh tried to play ‘rope-a-dope’ by pulling most of their players inside their own half to leave the space to go long over the top. 

Monaghan tried the same thing and Dublin responded with a similar set-up which left Cian O’Sullivan and Johnny Cooper free sweeping behind the midfield. This type of structured set-up is a balanced approach which can be very rewarding if you make an interception (like Paul Geaney did in 2014) and at the same time guards against being exposed (see Neil Gallagher v Dublin also in 2014).

Both goalkeepers are going to be under immense pressure in this game so how the mix of short, long and placed kicks works out could be critical. 

 

The defences

I think the Red Hands defensive structure is definitely good enough and I believe it is the best it has ever been. 

To date, Tyrone have played eight Championship games in the last two seasons. 

In six of those encounters they didn’t concede a goal. The incredible movement and scoring ability of the Dublin forwards will ask different questions but the Tyrone double sweeper system makes it very difficult for the opposition to get quality early ball into the full-forward line. 

In front of them is a line of five or six pressing the ball with serious intensity – starting just outside the 45-metre line. 

Both sides of the pitch are covered to guard against the opposition switching the play. All potential shooters inside the 45 are also man-marked. If a runner sneaks in behind, Colm Cavanagh or his rotating sweeper accomplice has him immediately. 

They shut the space down very quickly and tackle with great force and discipline. 

It’s a regimental system that has every possible manoeuvre covered. 

When necessary, Dublin attack with good width and patience but Tyrone will match this with relentless, aggressive, disciplined defending. The Red Hand message will be clear. To win this game Dublin are going to have to reach double figures in scores from distance,  that is from 40 yards and further back. 

I can’t see Jim Gavin going with the same forward line as the Monaghan game and I think there will be a couple of changes. 

I feel he will probably start Paul Flynn or Diarmuid Connolly in place of Eric Lowndes. 

But what he does with his full forward-line will be most interesting. I feel he will still go with Paul Mannion inside. He hit 0-3 against Monaghan but crucially he’s also left-footed which gives them a different kicking angle which will pull Tyrone defenders in another direction. 

With a double sweeper in place, it mightn’t be the game for Paddy Andrews to start in. 

In that case, I have a hunch that we will see Eoghan O’Gara on the square as an option to kick long and also a decoy for when they run the ball. 

The thing about O’Gara is he won’t be stripped of the ball easily and his ball-winning tends to be nice and close to goal. 

He has the capability of bulldozing his way through two or three men and winning frees. 

With Connolly, Andrews, Bernard Brogan, Kevin McManaman, Cormac Costello and Michael Darragh Macauley all in reserve, Dublin have a serious scoring options to come in. 

The attacks

Ultimately, this is where the game will be won and lost. Apparently Tyrone don’t have a marquee forward. If you look at the individual scoring charts from this year’s Championship they definitely support the argument. 

There are 19 players from 15 different counties on it and none of them are Tyrone men. Some would point to that being a weakness, while others will consider it a major strength that their scores are coming from such a wide range of players. I actually think they do have a top forward in Mark Bradley, but Tyrone’s system of play to date doesn’t particularly sway towards making him a pivotal figure in the game. 

That’s perfectly fine. There’s more than one way to skin a cat and all that. 

The Red Hands have hit 6-77 in their four Championship games. Of course that has been against teams of a much lesser standard, but a scoring average of 24 points would indicate that Tyrone have improved and evolved as an attacking unit. 

They may need to break the 20-point mark to beat Dublin and running at them will be key to punching those holes. 

However, their best line-breakers such as Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly and Tiernan McCann will be targeted on a personal level in an attempt to counter Tyrone’s running game. 

I have no doubt Dublin will bend all the rules to do this and I think they will have some success. Although I feel that Tyrone have a better defensive set-up than Dublin, I also believe the Red Hands have more to prepare for to curtail the Dublin attack. 

For me, Tyrone will have to bring something different to their game going forward if they are to win. 

Michael Fitzsimmons will probably pick up Mark Bradley with Cian O’Sullivan sweeping in front. 

Philly McMahon will then beast it out all over the pitch with Sean Cavanagh.

I’m not advocating that Tyrone play a route one game. That won’t work. But I feel that they need to mix it up a bit and ask questions of Cian O’Sullivan and the
full-back line that he protects. Their running game, combined with kicking the odd ball to an isolated Mark Bradley mightn’t be enough. 

The only teams that have really threatened to beat Dublin in the past few years have been Kerry and Mayo who both play a far more traditional game than Tyrone do. 

In my opinion they need to bring something extra, something different, something fresh. Something that deep down the Dubs won’t be expecting. 

Tyrone need to compromise the Dublin defensive system by stretching it more and forcing it take up a different shape than the one they have planned for. 

I feel their game needs to involve a better mix of measured kicking and running. 

To do this, they will need to play two, or possibly three, inside at times which will also leave more gaps for the running game. 

The problem with this is it may be viewed as compromising their defensive structure that demands almost everyone back behind the ball. 

If an attack breaks down and you’ve more players closer to the Dublin goal, this will present a serious challenge to get back into shape and press.

But they can still find a way of playing two or three up top even if it’s only for certain periods of the game. This will bring a completely different attacking dynamic which has the potential to create scoring chances unlike before. 

Leaving Mark Bradley isolated plus their brilliant running game won’t cut it in my opinion. It’s too predictable and it’s exactly what Dublin are planning for. 

For me, it boils down to one of two things: Has the master that is Mickey Harte been plotting all along to tweak their gameplan to beat Dublin or, deep down, does he believe what they are currently doing will be good enough? 

It may be a minor gamble, but without the risk of change, I believe there will be no reward.

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