GAA Football

Versatility on show as Tyrone and Derry slug it out in final showdown

Conor Meyler of Tyrone against Derry during the McKenna Cup Final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh on Saturday. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Andy Watters

THERE were 48 players used (24 on each side), three red cards, 18 yellows and the Derry manager was sent to the stands perhaps it’s not surprising that Saturday night’s game gradually took on a life of its own.

Both sides began with well-defined strategies but the lines became blurred as the game wore on. In normal time Derry played with a physical full-forward in Cailean O’Boyle who had Ryan Bell for close support.

While the Oak Leaf outfit had some success going route-one to the towering Lavey clubman – Bell’s first half goal came as a result of a Hail Mary effort from Enda Lynn that dropped into the square - they did vary the supply.

With O’Boyle pushed right up there was lots of space for the likes of Lynn, Emmet Bradley, Conor Kearns and Christopher ‘Sammy’ Bradley to exploit by onto accurate kick passes breaking into wide areas from Conor McAtamney, Benny Heron and others.

But though Derry took some excellent scores from the flanks on Saturday night but they did take time to adjust to Tyrone’s defensive set-up.

The Red Hands had Ronan McNamee on O’Boyle and Tiarnan McCann picking up Bell. Ahead of them were the vastly experienced Justin McMahon and Colm Cavanagh who provided a formidable bulwark against Derry’s efforts to pick their way through.

Danny Heavron, used in a free role, was able to give Derry ’keeper Thomas Mallon a reliable target from kick-outs but time and again over the first 20 minutes the Oak Leaf attackers took too long to get their attacks going. Their ball carrier was swallowed up and moves were broken down and it was only when they adopted a more direct strategy that they began to find scores more easily.

Conor McAtamney was the outstanding individual in a very competitive midfield. Both sides had spells of dominance at centrefield and Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly also put himself about to good effect when he was given half-a-yard of space by Chrissy McKaigue.

Donnelly combined well with Ronan O’Neill. O’Neill needs to work on the defensive side of his game if he is to nail down a starting place in this Tyrone side, but he is a gifted footballer who looks tailor-made for a playmaking role.

The Omagh clubman dropped deep to take the ball from Donnelly and used it well, picking out Lee Brennan or Cathal McShane in a rotating full-forward unit or Hugh Pat McGeary who burst through from defence to get ahead of the ball.

Tactics were fluid throughout the 90+ minutes but by the end Tyrone were literally running the show thanks to the attacking energy of Conor Myler and Niall Sludden and the finishing power of McShane and Brennan.

Myler was particularly impressive. He got on the ball in his own half and ran and ran and ran before laying it off to well-placed colleagues.

Despite the efforts of Danny Heavron, Derry were unable to get tight enough on him and sat far too deep in extra-time.

Fatigue must have played a part but instead of pushing out further up the field and putting ‘heat’ on the ball, they defended too close to their own posts and were ruthlessly picked off – six points in the first 10 minutes of extra-time tells that tale.


GAA Football

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