GAA Football

Tyrone bench to seal the deal against All-Ireland semi-finalists Monaghan

Conor McManus was man-of-the-match in Monaghan's earlier Championship meeting with Tyrone

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final: Tyrone v Monaghan (tomorrow, Croke Park, 3.30pm, ‘Live’ on RTE Two /Sky Sports)

TWO points. Four points. One point. Two points. The winning margins when Tyrone and Monaghan have met in the Championship in recent seasons.

Since their 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final meeting, it stands at two wins apiece.

What that stat tells us is Monaghan no longer fear Tyrone – even though their two recent losses to the Red Hands came at Croke Park.

Malachy O’Rourke took the Monaghan reins in 2013.

Even though he’s guided the county to two Ulster titles, this squad is the best he’s assembled in his six years at the helm.

For Monaghan, it is unlikely to get any better than 2018.

For years, Monaghan management and players would tell the public there was never an over-reliance on Conor McManus for scores when the opposite was true.

McManus has set scandalously high standards over the years but he hasn’t played better football than this summer.

He has been consistently brilliant.

The difference, however, is Monaghan have the genuine talent that has lifted the scoring burden off the Clontibret man this term.

In their eight Championships, they have averaged 8.75 scorers per game (Tyrone average 9.5 scorers per Championship game).

Ryan McAnespie has clicked at senior level, Conor McCarthy is showing more glimpses of his talent and the line-breaking Karl O’Connell has hit 1-7 in five Championship games and looks nailed on for an Allstar award.

Vinny Corey continues to defy logic and Kieran Duffy is playing his best football in a Monaghan jersey.

Monaghan’s defensive unit has rediscovered the meanness it mislaid in 2017 and Niall Kearns and Darren Hughes have dovetailed surprisingly well at midfield.

Then, you look at Rory Beggan in goal - scorer of 17 placed balls and a back catalogue of kick-out strategies that would put the great Stephen Cluxton in the shade.

So where are the weaknesses in this Monaghan team?

Moreover, Monaghan aren’t intimidated by Tyrone’s defensive blanket.

When plotting Donegal’s downfall in the 2015 Ulster final, Monaghan were brilliant at how they dismantled the mass defence.

Happy to keep possession and using the full width of the pitch, they darted down the flanks and were able to thread precise kick passes into Conor McManus.

It’s a strategy that continues to serve them well.

Vinny Corey’s goal at Healy Park back in May was a perfect illustration of how Monaghan can go into crowded districts and still ransack the place.

Ronan McNamee was rarely more than an arm’s length away from Conor McManus in Omagh, and yet he was directly involved in all of Monaghan’s first half scores, bar one.

Monaghan are undoubtedly better game-managers than Tyrone.

Years of experience helps not to mention Monaghan’s quarter-back goalkeeper Rory Beggan being able to pick the blade of grass for the ball to land on.

Man for man, Monaghan have better footballers than Tyrone in their starting 15 – but this is where some things don’t add up and why 2018 could yet turn out to be Mickey Harte’s greatest triumph in management.

Tyrone are younger than Monaghan and the week’s turnaround is in their favour.

The laws of nature suggest the Red Hands will have the legs on their provincial conquerors at Croke Park tomorrow.

Even though Tyrone had secured their first Super 8s win over Roscommon long before the final whistle, they still attacked the opposition like ravenous hyenas.

They flooded forward and showed no mercy to the hapless Connacht men.

Afterwards, Kevin McStay appeared genuinely shell-shocked by Tyrone’s pace and conditioning.

“Their half-forwards were back like bullets – and they can keep doing it,” he said.

Last weekend, Donegal played the role of the crafty boxer with perhaps a nagging stamina issue; they landed some beautiful jabs to keep Tyrone at bay – but in the home straight they collapsed under the weight of Tyrone’s tackling and sheer pace.

The reason why this summer could end up being Harte’s finest hour is because the Tyrone manager has disguised the limitations of his team and maxmised their strengths.

It’s a very prescriptive approach – some observers might say dour – but Harte is squeezing the absolute maximum out of this group.

“I think we’re working the best way possible for our players to play the game,” he said.

And, of course, Lee Brennan’s four points and audacious dummies against Donegal last Sunday reminded Tyrone supporters what a marquee forward looks like.

Harte has some very good players at his disposal – some will become great players in time - and is trying to blend them into All-Ireland winners.

The Red Hand bench was rightly lauded in Ballybofey last Sunday after they mined 2-5 between them to seal their semi-final spot.

Harte will be banking on his substitutes making a similar impact tomorrow to secure their first All-Ireland final appearance since 2008, while Monaghan are looking to make their first decider since 1930.

It won’t be lost on either manager tomorrow that Monaghan won by two points in Omagh 12 weeks ago with Collie Cavanagh, Tiernan McCann and Lee Brennan not fully fit while Killyclogher forward Mark Bradley was a huge loss to the Tyrone attack after suffering an ankle injury in the early stages.

Tyrone are in much better shape ahead of tomorrow’s All-Ireland semi-final.

Monaghan can claim the same too after the composure they’ve displayed in the Super 8s series.

A lot of the duels will be the same as they were in Omagh three months ago.

In a game of fine margins, it depends on who makes a friend out of the wide open spaces of Croke Park.

It’s almost certain Tyrone will still be in the game with 15 minutes remaining tomorrow.

Their bench could just about seal the deal.


Man of the Moment…

Ryan McAnespie (Monaghan)

FOR the first couple of years of his senior career, people outside of Monaghan were probably wondering what all the fuss was about. The Emyvale man was the classic Monaghan worker-bee half-forward who was regularly hooked before full-time.

But, with some players, it one day clicks for them at senior level. McAnespie has well and truly clicked at elite level this season, to such a degree that he must be in the running for an Allstar.

Monaghan’s evolution towards being more offensive has undoubtedly enabled McAnespie to reach his potential. Scored from play in five Championship games out of eight to date.


How they line out…

Tyrone (SFC v Monaghan): N Morgan, M McKernan, R McNamee, R Brennan, T McCann, F Burns, P Harte, C Cavanagh, P Hampsey, M Donnelly, N Sludden, C McShane, M Bradley, R Donnelly, C McAliskey Subs: M O'Neill, L Brennan, M Cassidy, H Loughran, C McCann, D McClure, A McCrory, HP McGeary, K McGeary, P McNulty, R O'Neill.


How they line out…

Monaghan (SFC v Tyrone): R Beggan, K Duffy, D Wylie, R Wylie; C Walshe, V Corey, K O’Connell; N Kearns, D Hughes; R McAnespie, S Carey, D Mone; D Malone, F Kelly, C McManus Subs: C Forde, C Boyle, B Kerr, D Ward, N McAdam, K Hughes, O Duffy, P McKenna, C McCarthy, J McCarron, D Garland


Team talk…


ANYONE who has played under Mickey Harte will tell you he doesn’t like changing his team if he can help it. And given that we’re deep into the season, there is too much risk attached to promoting players who have excelled from the bench. These players almost condemn themselves to being impact subs because of what they bring to the proceedings later in the game.

Richie Donnelly is probably under most pressure to retain his place after Lee Brennan’s game-changing exploits against Donegal last weekend. Conor Meyler (injured) is the only change to the Tyrone side that started against Donegal with Rory Brennan gaining a defensive berth. Ronan McNamee is named to start despite carrying a knock.


Team talk…


BY this stage of the season there really are no secrets between Monaghan and Tyrone. The question is whether Malachy O’Rourke starts or keeps Conor McCarthy in reserve. He is named among the Monaghan subs. It would be tempting to hold him in reserve in a bid to show Tyrone that they aren’t the only ones with game-changers among their bench. Often used to soften up the opposition, dirty ball specialist Dermot Malone showed he is a man for all seasons after an excellent display against Galway last week and gets the nod, while Dessie Mone is down to start too.


Key battle…

Ronan McNamee (Tyrone) v Conor McManus (Monaghan)

FAMILIARITY certainly doesn’t breed contempt; what it does mean is Ronan McNamee will shadow Conor McManus once again. McNamee did as well as could be expected on McManus during their Ulster duel back in May. The Tyrone full-back also marked the Clontibret man in their 2014 and 2015 Championship meetings and knows everything there is to know about Monaghan’s star man. But knowing and stopping are two entirely different things. If McNamee breaks even tomorrow, the Tyrone management will be over the moon and, as a result, would probably progress to this year’s All-Ireland final. Getting close to breaking even is sometimes the best you can hope for when you’re facing McManus.


Tactical take…


TYRONE won’t change for anybody. They will sit and invite the opposition onto them. Rory Beggan’s kick-outs are almost impossible to nullify, particularly so when the Red Hands don’t press high enough up the field.

Expect Tyrone to back themselves to win a sufficient amount of turnovers and break with blinding pace. Despite Tyrone’s improvements over the last 12 months they still don’t possess a free-taker of Conor McManus or Dean Rock’s quality. Where Tyrone hope to hold the upper hand is sitting on their bench at the start of today’s semi-final. It’s also harder to tie up Tyrone’s defensive line-breakers [Peter Harte and Niall Sludden] on a pitch like Croke Park, especially in the last quarter when front players will find more space.


Tactical take…


MONAGHAN have it all in their locker. They can play possession football. They can hit you on the counter and they’re not afraid of the opposition’s defensive blanket. Malachy O’Rourke got his match-ups right in Healy Park back in May and there shouldn’t be a lot of divergence from that initial plan tomorrow. Tyrone have three dangers in their middle eight. Niall Sludden, Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly. Dessie Mone did well on Sludden, Fintan Kelly pushed Harte to the fringes and Vinny Corey broke even with Donnelly.

Plus, the Farney men did well off Niall Morgan’s kick-outs in their provincial meeting. They will be looking to replicate those results again while Monaghan have a better spread of scorers than they’ve ever had.


Betting box…

Tyrone 8/11

Monaghan 6/4

Draw 15/2

Handicap betting

Monaghan (+1) 1/1

Tyrone (-1) 1/1

Draw (+1) 8/1


First goalscorer

Conor McManus 11/2

Lee Brennan 15/2

Mark Bradley 15/2

Ryan McAnespie 18/1

No goalscorer 6/1


Who’s the ref?

Anthony Nolan (Wicklow)

THE Wicklow native has been on the Championship referees’ panel since 2014 and with each passing season he’s climbed another rung. He took charge of last season’s Leinster SFC final between Dublin and Kildare and the All-Ireland minor final between Kerry and Derry. He was also the man in the middle for Monaghan’s Super 8s game against Kildare a few weeks ago and has refereed Tyrone on a number of occasions in League football. The former Baltinglass footballer is a bit injury-prone as he was forced to rule himself out of Slaughtneil’s All-Ireland semi-final with Nemo Rangers in February. Took a bit of criticism for not getting a handle on the messy NFL tie between Galway and Mayo earlier in the year.


Weather watch…

THE weather will be a bit like what greeted the two sides in Omagh back in May: drizzly rain. In fact, it will be raining for most of the weekend which usually turns Croke Park into an ice rink. Temperatures will be around 20 degrees Celsius.


Previous Championship meetings

May 20, 2018: Tyrone 1-16 Monaghan 1-18

August 8, 2015: Monaghan 0-14 Tyrone 0-18

June 15, 2014: Monaghan 1-12 Tyrone 0-14

August 3, 2013: Monaghan 0-12 Tyrone 0-14

June 5, 2011: Monaghan 1-11 Tyrone 1-13

July 18, 2010: Monaghan 0-7 Tyrone 1-14

July 15, 2007: Monaghan1-13 Tyrone 1-15

August 6, 2005: Monaghan 1-7 Tyrone 2-14

July 17, 1988: Monaghan 1-10 Tyrone 0-11

May 16, 1982: Monaghan 0-9 Tyrone 1-9

May 17, 1981: Monaghan 2-9 Tyrone 0-6


Last Championship meeting…

May 20 2018, Ulster Championship SFC quarter-final (Healy Park): Tyrone 1-16 Monaghan 1-18

THERE were only two points in it at the end of this thrilling clash in the rain – but even Mickey Harte admitted afterwards that the final scoreline had flattered the Red Hands.

Vinny Corey’s goal just before half-time gave Monaghan something to protect in the second half and while Tyrone pushed hard to get level, up stepped Conor McManus to land a couple of incredible points to see Monaghan over the finish line.

Tyrone: N Morgan; P Hampsey (0-1), R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, F Burns, P Harte (0-1); C Cavanagh, M Donnelly (0-1); C McShane (0-1), N Sludden (0-2), C Meyler; L Brennan (0-3 frees), C McAliskey (0-6, 0-3 frees), M Bradley Subs: R O’Neill for M Bradley (20), D McClure for C Cavanagh (h/t), M McKernan (1-1) for C McCarron (40), HP McGeary for T McCann (53), K McGeary for L Brennan (56), C McCann for R O’Neill (62)

Yellow cards: N Morgan (35), D McClure (46), C McAliskey (47), C McCann (67)

Red cards: P Harte (73)

Monaghan: R Beggan (0-4, 0-3 frees, 0-1 ‘45); D Mone (0-1), D Wylie (0-1), R Wylie; K Duffy, V Corey (1-0), K O’Connell; N Kearns, D Hughes; F Kelly (0-1), J McCarron (0-2, 0-1 free), D Ward; R McAnespie (0-1), K Hughes, C McManus (0-6, 0-4 frees) Subs: C McCarthy (0-1 free) for D Ward (41), O Duffy for J McCarron (62), C Walshe (0-1) for D Mone (63)

Yellow cards: D Ward (24), K O’Connell (27), R Beggan (31), C McCarthy (72)

Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)

Attendance: 15,029


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