GAA Football

Kevin Madden: Eight ways to Tyrone Super success

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte (right) and assistant manager Gavin Devlin at Croke Park. Picture: Seamus Loughran

2018 will be remembered for many things but most of all it will be reflected on as the year that the Super 8s hit town.

Deep down I’m an optimist by nature so in my pre-final column I have managed to find eight super ways that Tyrone should attack Dublin to upset the odds.

1: Ditch the double sweeper. By sitting off and inviting Dublin on in the early stages just won’t work.

Why have two sweepers sitting in front of goal when the point guard to the Dublin attack will work most of the shots from around the D area?

Make no mistake about it. Colm Cavanagh must be made extremely relevant in Tyrone’s defensive plan.

To make this happen his current positioning has to change and he must be utilised in a defensive role further out the pitch around the front of the D where Dublin will seek to nurture the scoring chances.

If you look at the anecdotal evidence from the game in Omagh, Cavanagh was merely used as a pawn in the game.

He was tricked into pressing out to meet and track decoy runners inside the ‘21’ who were never getting the ball.

Cavanagh should be given freedom to parole the D area and press the shooter. But he must do this in the knowledge that Dublin will not want to pull the trigger when he is close by so he will have be clever about his press.

With Cavanagh out of his normal position Tyrone will want to make sure they have a covering player between the press and their goal to meet any runners who have made it in on goal.

2: Make them kick more. Tyrone can force Dublin to revert to a more traditional kicking game. To do this Mickey Harte will have to put serious trust in his full back line. You may think this is some crazy form of masochism which will only unearth a nuclear weapon that we haven’t seen for some time. But think about it. Dublin are so conditioned now in breaking down mass defences that they no longer expect to get many opportunities to kick longer and early.

Their longer kicking game of a couple of years ago is more or less redundant. So they have perfected the short calculated game of patience where the percentages can be controlled. Counteracting this by putting everyone behind the ball and starting your first serious press around the defensive ‘50’ doesn’t cut it.

They are conditioned for this and are masters at figuring by it out. It’s no coincidence that the only team to really trouble Dublin in four years has been Mayo, who press the ball with serious purpose in the middle third.

The first phase of the Tyrone defence needs to disrupt the Dublin buildup earlier between the 50’s. Starting the press higher is going to leave greater space in front of their full-back line. But this extra pressure around the ball coupled with the extra space inside will be a temptation too great to resist. If Dublin are struggling with their transition game and the space is there they will kick the ball longer and earlier. This will leave more margin for error and present Tyrone’s best chance of turnovers. The Dublin kicking game to their full forward line has gone a little stale of late and I don’t believe they present the same threat in there as two or three years ago. It’s risky but no more risky than continuing with what has failed in the past. You know that old saying about insanity?

3: The next tactic is linked to the previous one.

By letting the likes of James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey, Brian Fenton, and Ciaran Kilkenny go free and then somehow hope to pick them up late in the attack has already been proven that it doesn’t work. Take McCaffrey for example and his relationship with Fenton on the pitch.

When he gives him the ball he will always keep moving ahead of the ball into space. McCarthy the same. Remember his goal in Omagh?

It was borne out of a one-two with Fenton.

On occasions a runner could be opening up a team for a goal and at other times it’s merely a decoy to pull defenders out of position so they can free up someone behind them for the shot. Remember Johnny Small’s role in the goal?

He didn’t touch the ball but Colm Cavanagh pushed across to meet him in anticipation that he was getting the pass from McCarthy. This creates confusion in mass defences and the accountability of who’s picking up who often goes out the window. Kilkenny, the point guard of the Dublin attack, runs the show often being the man feeding the shooters around the D.

But because he executes a lot of lateral passes teams often play loose on him which is totally missing the point.

He is the best decision maker and the creator.

He is also the top scorer from play in this year’s championship with 2-21. The point guard needs targeted.

Tyrone should hammer that hammer and go man to man on those players. You can only dismantle an army by attacking their greatest weapons.

Employing tactic number two will make it easier to detail tactic three as a big part of the overall plan.

You can be sure Dublin will once again man mark Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly, Tiernan McCann and Niall Sludden and I believe it’s time Tyrone did the same.

4: Manipulate the Dublin kickout - Have a plan to target and win some but also have a plan for conceding kickouts on their own terms. For example, winning Consecutive Dublin Kickouts is so important. Make no mistake about it, your best chance of scoring against them is from their own kickout. This is much easier said than done.

I was delighted to see Tyrone push up to try and contest Cluxton’s restarts in Omagh with 3 split across the full forward line four across the half forward area, and four behind that. To have any chance of beating them you have to put Cluxton under pressure by killing the pockets of space. It’s not necessarily about how many of his kickouts you win but rather can you back one up with another and get two or three periods of this in the game. Tyrone got a great spell in the second half in Omagh.

When they are on a scoreable free this will present the best opportunity to get the shape in place to put Cluxton under pressure.

When you win one, your chances of another become significantly higher. If Tyrone can manage to win even 7 or 8 Dublin kickouts that would be massive.

But they should also only concede on their own terms.

So they need to protect against long ones over the top and sometimes tease Cluxton by leaving enough space to tempt him into the riskier one close to the sideline or a short really one to a defender with his back to goal who should be targeted.

5: Create serious pressure on the shooter. This simple instruction forms part of every game plan any manager with his salt ever draws up and sounds really obvious.

But creating that bubble of pressure and intensity in the scoring zone against Dublin isn’t easy. In fact, in the last three years, only Mayo have succeeded in carrying this out with a degree of success.

Dublin move the ball from side to side very quickly and keep it out of contact. Decoy runs are made to pull defenders out of position. Forwards, like Dean Rock, tease by bouncing into and back out of contact with the ball. A player will always be coming on the loop.

If Tyrone can force a few turnovers, make Dublin kick under pressure a time or two, and force some over-carries it will bring their greatest weapon into play ie. The Counterattack.

6: Have a plan for Kevin McManaman. When he comes on he will present a new challenge. All the rest of the Dublin forwards rarely try to take a man on or carry into contact. McManaman however will run at Tyrone and break lines. The right man detailed to mark him with adequate cover in place will be vital.

7: Be prepared to change the plan through the course. I believe some of areas outlined above give Tyrone the best possible chance of being something more than competitive. So let’s consider if they are leading with 20 minutes to go.

If Tyrone are in front on the scoreboard they can now dictate the terms of how they defend, how they attack and how they approach both sets of kick-outs.

A more conservative approach to defence will be important as both teams tire and fresh legs are introduced.

Dublin will be less patient and more urgent so Tyrone will want to meet that with a more compact shape. That’s where they revert to type and go back to the plan they have perfected over the last number of years.

8: Attack with variety. I have said this for some time now. A running game on its own won’t cut it against the Dubs in Croke Park. Cluxton is dodgy under the high ball and when the right pass is played in it can create panic in there.

Philly McMahon probably has the measure of Richie Donnelly in the air but I think McAliskey could cause Johnny Cooper problems when the sweeper Cian O’Sullivan isn’t in place.

This is where the courage has to come into play and Tyrone must prey on that opportunity that could present their best chance of goals. Could we see Peter Harte pushed up closer to goal in attempt to get him in the game and ask different questions of Johnny Small who seems to have his number out the pitch?

That would give Dublin something else to worry about.

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