Danny Hughes: Player input on tactics can help Tyrone to next level

Tyrone are in good shape ahead of the Ulster campaign after a revival in the second half of their League campaign Picture by Seamus Loughran

THERE will be some very disappointed teams going through the motions in Ulster this week.

Many inter-county teams will break up for a week or two before club football kicks in.

However, don’t kid yourself. The ‘club-only window’ of April doesn’t mean unfettered access to county representatives. It means that those players not injured (or protecting themselves) will get to play club league football (or a championship round in some counties), while undergoing serious inter-county training in preparation for the Ulster Championship.

Only those competing in an Allianz League final – Derry and Donegal – will see the year to date as ‘job done’.

Tyrone are a bit different in that they have responded brilliantly to a very poor start to the League, managing wins against Dublin and Galway respectively – two results which will surely lift morale heading into another Ulster Championship.

On current form, the Red Hands go in as favourites ahead of Donegal, Monaghan and Fermanagh in that order.

It appears that since those early League defeats, Tyrone have changed their style, using Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane to great effect further up the field as target men.

Donnelly (below) stated in yesterday’s edition of The Irish News that this tactical change, in his case, originated accidentally. Regardless, Tyrone had little option but to change their approach.

The tactical manoeuvring and the will of the management to persist with this playing style will only be tested when things are not going as well in a high-stakes game situation. The question then becomes – will Tyrone revert to their old ways?

Perhaps the management will say publicly that nothing has changed. Maybe so. But the results don’t lie.

I feel at this stage that the Red Hands have enough experience and leaders in the team to be able to go to the management and say ‘listen, this is what we would like to see. This is how we as players want to play’.

The Red Hands have been to an All-Ireland final now, have a couple of Ulster titles behind them, so it’s important that key players are given the opportunity in any team to dictate tactics without crossing that line in-between.

I have read enough literature on management and leadership to learn that it appears the key to success as a manager in many winning teams is being open to change without losing control of players. Clear communication and honest feedback, constructive or not, will ensure respectful lines are maintained.

In a way, perhaps Sean Cavanagh did the current Tyrone players a favour when he described Mickey Harte’s approach to management as ‘autocratic’, Perhaps a softer approach by Harte since has allowed Tyrone football to change their approach and style of play. It is a very fine balancing act.

It is unrealistic to assume that you will keep every player happy all of the time.

As a player, I tended to have a much more intense approach to the game and if I wasn’t beating myself up (which I did most of the time), I was certainly looking at ways my role in the game could improve us as a team.

However, selfishly, you always thought of number one.

Being single-minded when you are in that elite level of competition strips your approach back to behaviours in their purest human form. And sometimes this means being selfish. It is perhaps something managers and coaches don’t appreciate at times.

Many players have the capability to understand tactically where the game is being won or lost – they just don’t have the opportunity to air a particular view either way.

Should players be unhappy with a particular style, direction or delivery, undesirable results and defeats can render any tactics management put in place as pretty irrelevant – so players’ ‘buy-in’ is hugely important.

Striking this balance between player and manager requires reciprocation from both camps.

For Derry to climb out of Division Four in their first season is a significant boost, while Down failing to be promoted from Division Three certainly is a blow.

There is no way of sugar-coating it for either county, but they are probably at the levels they are for a reason.

‘Building’ and ‘re-building’ are over-used terms in my eyes and, for me, it’s pretty straightforward – at what point does this building end and another phase of rebuilding begin?

Personally, and I suspect for many others, I do not understand how Antrim are still languishing in Division Four of the Allianz Football League.

My own club, Saval, played St Gall’s of Belfast in a challenge game. The west Belfast club had us beaten by half-time, and that was without their dual hurling players.

Now, our club is not the bar for anyone, I must admit. However, how Antrim football can get away with not having these lads involved, alongside many Cargin representatives, points to a more fundamental problem.

The St Gall’s team we played included the like of Chris Kerr, Andy McClean, Kevin Niblock and Mickey Pollock and that is to name but a few.

Irrespective of retirements or absences for whatever reason, players of this calibre should be playing for Antrim.

All would be playing inter-county football were they from some other counties in Ulster.

Without knowing Antrim football particularly well, nor the workings, I believe that the Saffrons have the potential to be playing Division Two football – with a full hand.

You may think that this is naïve and maybe it is on my part. I fundamentally live by the philosophy that if any squad of players are ambitious enough, and equally well-prepared, they can compete with the very best teams.

To achieve this in an Antrim context means that the best of St Gall’s and Cargin should be on the field. No management team in Antrim seeking success can afford to be without such services. In their absence, Antrim as a county and as a force continue to lose out.

St Gall’s will have serious ambitions in regaining the Antrim Club Senior Football Championship title and could be deemed a serious contender in Ulster later this year and the All-Ireland frame in 2020.

And, not for the first time, could we see a club dominating a club championship title, while their county team languishes aimlessly in the lower tier?

It has happened and continues to happen, as in the case of Slaughtneil and Derry, and it appears to be the case in Antrim also.

Every year that passes is wasted and a generation of kids who may want to wear the Antrim jersey get lost.


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