Tyrone need to show no fear against Dublin
TRYING to decipher deep and far-reaching indicators from just a few crumbs of information would usually be a fool’s errand and the realm of the palm readers or Mystic Megs of the world.
Come the first round of the League and the start of the new season proper, it is hard to avoid doing, no matter about the inaccuracy.
An apparent change in emphasis has been the most talked about issue this week with increases in scoring averages and goals compared to the first round last year.
Previous bastions of the defensive blanket in Donegal and, to a lesser extent, Monaghan have displayed a much more attacking intent.
This is certainly one of those early season indicators that may prove unfounded, but the hunger among Gaelic football followers for this to be a reality is clear and they are going to great lengths to convince themselves that the short era of very defensive play is over.
Tyrone were missing from this particular topic of conversation as with only three points from play and minimal change exhibited in strategy, there was little evidence of the rumoured change in emphasis. There were mitigating circumstances, however.
The game was played in atrocious weather conditions and the Red Hands managed to both concede a goal and get a man sent off early in the game.
Such events are enough to disrupt even best laid plans never mind changes which, if present, would still be in their infancy.
The problem for Tyrone is that they take on the Dubs tomorrow night.
The automatic modern reaction, especially when it was clear how easy Dublin moved through the gears against Kildare when required, is to go defensive and keep the game low-scoring.
My gut feeling is that Tyrone need to show more than this. From the players’ point of view, I think it’s important to not show a fear of their illustrious opponents.
They must show that they are at least up for taking them on.
The Healy Park pitch will soften the legs of the Dubs much more than their first run-out in Croke Park. That in itself will decrease Dublin’s potency somewhat.
It is still a massive challenge for Tyrone and it’s hard to imagine a win, but a performance where they get on the front foot at times is critical.
Monaghan and Donegal will be out to rack up their first wins as well. Donegal’s high-scoring exploits presented evidence of Declan Bonner’s stated desire to achieve a more equal balance between attack and defence. At the very least, this approach is likely to reinvigorate the squad.
For me it is the message more than the voice that can create a fresh start.
Bonner, knowing that the players would have been through countless meetings, tactical sessions and video analysis focusing on their defensive positioning under two different managers, would have been on a beaten docket if he had simply hoped a different voice could do the trick.
With the change in approach, the players are suddenly trying to do new things, find a different balance. And while it obviously brings no guarantees, I imagine from the players’ point of view, it’s a welcome change.
A home game against newly- promoted Galway, who despite showing their ability against Tyrone are still a side missing several key players, is a good chance to get off the mark.
Monaghan’s game against Kildare is the quintessential four-pointer after both suffered opening round defeats.
If Monaghan lose, their proud and prolonged Division One status will be in greater peril than it has been for several years.
They appeared unlucky against Mayo with a number of dubious referee calls. But losing at home to Stephen Rochford’s men, traditionally poor starters who were only back from holiday and missing many key players, is a
slip-up. Losing again this weekend could turn the slip into a slide that may be hard to stop.
Similar to Monaghan, Derry’s reversal at the hands of Westmeath had at least a bit to do with some referee calls and a lack of luck with Enda Lynn’s late penalty miss.
Yet the loss of your first home game and a testing second game away to Longford may mean Derry’s new management are facing an increasingly uphill battle to get out of Division Three.
Down and Armagh’s wins already feel as if momentum is being maintained by both from last year’s encouraging campaigns.
Having lost probably the most crucial points of their Division Three campaign last year against Sligo, Armagh were much more ruthless this time around.
I expect a similar showing against Westmeath as the team looks to get the consistency of performance that was missing at times during last year’s League campaign and which, in the end, cost them in the Championship.
I imagine promotion with a bit to spare is the aim for Kieran McGeeney and his charges and
I have no doubt they will feel they have bigger fish to fry this year.
Cavan last weekend showed great spirit in getting back into a game against Clare that they seemed well out of.
That is always an encouraging sign, yet taking positives from managing a draw against Clare is not where this Cavan team expected to be at this stage in its development.
While nothing is ever won this early in the season, significant and possibly irreparable damage can be done to a team and a county’s belief and morale should a string of poor results or performances occur.
Mattie McGleenan will know well that this weekend’s home game against Louth holds much more importance to the Cavan year than how it may appear on paper.
His job will be to ensure that his players realise this too and turn in a performance befitting their potential.
I had a wry smile at Fermanagh’s good win over Wexford. The Ernemen and the Yellowbellies would hardly be a tense rivalry, yet it seemed a pretty hard-fought affair which spilled over on a few occasions.
The fact that my good friend Ryan McMenamin (inset) got sent to the stand shows old habits die hard.
Ricey, no matter what jersey he has on, only knows one way, although I’m sure he didn’t expect to be finding himself in the referee’s notebook just so soon.
Fermanagh and Antrim appear to have hit the ground running under their respective new management teams. For such counties that early-season confidence is crucial after their disappointing seasons last year. Matches against Offaly and Waterford respectively this weekend afford good chances for the early-season momentum to be continued.
While last weekend’s results were not overly encouraging from an Ulster point of view, I think there is little sense in early-season despair.
This weekend alone could quickly change the tone with a potential clean sweep of Ulster wins.
The trickiest hurdle? Those pesky Dubs of course.