GAA Football

Kicking Out: Selfish approach to goalscoring undermining Tyrone's attacking play

Peter Harte has been Tyrone's best man in front of goal, both in terms of finishing and decision making, but too often others have made the wrong choice when great chances present themselves. Picture by Philip Walsh

IT was the All-Ireland semi-final of 2000, and Kerry had one foot out through the gate when Armagh went for the nuclear option.

Early in the second period of extra-time when Mike Frank Russell’s second goal had etched out a five-point advantage for the Kingdom.

Ger Reid tossed the ball long and when it broke, there was Oisin McConville tearing off it, through on goal. Diarmuid O’Keeffe is a sitting duck in the middle of the Canal End nets, but the Crossmaglen man makes a hero of him.

The shot is straight down his throat, the ‘keeper so surprised that he palms it out falling backwards.

Thereafter, McConville had two rules when he was in on goal. If there was time, he’d try and commit the goalkeeper first, make life a bit easier. Regardless, the default was always to go low and hard.

That Orchard side was blessed with some unbelievable finishers. An inside division of McConville, Clarke and McDonnell was always going to get goals.

And like any team, that Armagh side practiced not only scoring goals, but creating them. That made them lethal.

Some aren’t blessed in the same way.

Brian McIver’s time in charge of Derry has taken on a warped recollection in recent times. Things didn’t end well but in 2014, they played some superb attacking football.

And they scored goals. Paddy Tally was coaching the side and his stamp was all over the green flags they were raising.

Mark Lynch was playing the football of his life at 11, cutting holes down the middle, buoyed by the new black card rule. Nobody could touch him.

All year, Lynch had been running at the heart, waiting for a defender to commit and popping it off for the ball to be palmed into the net.

It was a combination of three things: positioning, communication and timing. It was Tally’s speciality.

When his St Mary’s team won the Sigerson Cup last year, former Derry defender Gerard O’Kane tweeted after their semi-final win: “For 3 years with Derry, Paddy Tally’s favourite drill was the overlap with a player palm into open goal. No doubt he has done it with St Mary’s.”

A palmed goal by Ciaran Corrigan brought the house down on UCC. The same against DCU, when Cathal McShane squared across goal for Corey Quinn and then the latter did the same for Brian Óg McGilligan in extra-time.

That was quite simply the difference in winning and losing, as goals often are.

St Mary’s weren’t blessed with natural goalscorers, so they did what a smart team does: they simplified it.

It is where this Tyrone team has continually fallen down over the past four seasons, and where they will continue to fall down.

If you were one for believing the bare facts, then you wouldn’t consider Tyrone’s goalscoring record to be all that bad. 24 goals in the last four years is no mean return.

But the only goals they’ve scored in the All-Ireland series are Peter Harte’s penalty that day against Kerry and the three they hit against Armagh last year, started off by another Harte penalty.

They scored eight in the games against Derry and Cavan (replay) in 2016, and three against Carlow a few weeks ago, all of which were comfortable victories. Those three games account for almost half their tally of the last three years.

They get goals when they don’t really need them, but when games are there to be won, they have a terrible habit of missing.

It’s not a lack of work at it. Peter Donnelly is known to do the same repeatedly at Garvaghey, working on 3v2 scenarios.

But for whatever reason, ever since that day in the rain against Kerry their decision making has been consistently poor when those overlaps have presented themselves.

That day, Connor McAliskey raced clear, committed both Tadhg Morley and Brendan Kealy towards him and then decided to blaze over the bar while Darren McCurry stood, hands on head waiting for the simplest of finishes. The pass never came. The hammer blow was never struck.

That was the best of three good goal chances that afternoon. And if you take a run through their games since then, it’s an issue they have never properly resolved.

They were nearly out on their ears against Meath a few weeks ago, and they’d done the same thing again.

After 15 minutes, Padraig McNulty was clean through. He didn’t know as he put his head down to bury against the crossbar that there was a whistle against Tiernan McCann. He also didn’t know Niall Sludden was square for the simplest of finishes.

After McAliskey pulled a good chance wide of the near post, McNulty barged through again only for his shot to be repelled by Andrew Colgan.

Then McAliskey hit the bar with Tiernan McCann screaming for it to be popped off for an open goal. That was all before half-time. On the hour, Mattie Donnelly blazed high and wide when the whole Meath defence had stepped out and left Harry Loughran all alone in behind.

It took sub Ronan O’Neill to weave through and finally, at last, unselfishly square for Loughran to palm home what became the decisive goal in extra-time.

If that were a one-off, you could forgive it but it’s happened so repeatedly. They missed an absolute glut of goal chances against Donegal in 2016, enough to be noticed even despite how impressive the display was that day.

And on Saturday past, they should have had Cavan killed off long before they did. They missed a very similar opportunity to that one way back at the start of this cycle against Kerry.

Frank Burns cut in, actually threw a great dummy that opened up the simple goal, and then drove the ball straight into Fergal Reilly while Peter Harte and Cathal McCarron both stood on the far post with nobody near them.

They’re getting people in the right positions. They’re creating chances. But there’s only so long they can go on not taking them without wondering why their players are still shooting themselves instead of doing the simple, unselfish thing.

It might not look as pretty and they mightn’t get their name in the headlines, but unless Tyrone start making the right decision in front of goal, their summers will be shorter than they should be.

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