GAA Football

Cathal McShane key to Tyrone kicking on in Allianz League

Cathal McShane has developed into a threatening target man for Tyrone this season. Pic Philip Walsh
Francis Mooney

Tyrone's kicking revolution has opened up exciting new possibilities for the summer ahead as they prepare to take a two-pronged approach into their Championship challenge.

Long, direct kick-passes to target men Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly have transformed the Red Hand challenge during the latter part of the NFL campaign.

But they have also remained true to their more recognisable running game, forging an intriguing mix designed to stretch, confuse and expose opponents.

McShane has been a revelation during the Red Hands' five-game unbeaten run, scoring heavily in recent games and setting up opportunities for others as Tyrone rose from the relegation zone to challenge for a place in the Division One final.

“I just have to work hard at it. Last year I was more out the field, and coming late attacking, whereas now I'm in there as a target man,” he said.

Fluidity adds to the effectiveness of the new plan, with McShane alternating with skipper Donnelly and others inside to bring elements of unpredictability to a refreshing Plan B.

“It's not cemented. I can be in there, Mattie can be in there, Petey (Harte) can be there. We change it up.

“You go out to do your best, and the last two games it went well.

“We're working hard trying to factor all that we're doing in training into our game.”

The influence of one of the game's greatest attackers, former Red Hand hero Stephen O'Neill, can be seen in the direct approach which was so devastatingly effective against Dublin and Galway, both of whom saw their league title prospects shattered by Tyrone.

O'Neill, now the team's forwards coach, has played a major role in developing a strategy that has made Mickey Harte's side a more potent force in front of goal.

“Stevie has come in to do a bit of work, and we're trying to work on that kick-passing.

“It doesn't take away from the fact that we're still good at our running game, we still have that running game that we can work on as well, so it gives us that extra option.”

But the direct approach requires not only commanding ball-winners inside, but accurate kick-passers capable of consistently picking out the target men with quality ball.

Tyrone are blessed with an abundance of able providers – the likes of Richie Donnelly, Peter Harte, Niall Sludden and Kieran McGeary – while Kyle Coney and Darren McCurry offer more of the same from the bench.

“Darren McCurry and Kyle Coney are good kick-passers of the ball, and they're also good at taking their own score, so that's what we want, and we have to build for that towards the Championship.”

The switch to a varied approach of running game and long ball has defined Tyrone's National Football League campaign this year.

It was only after early defeats to Kerry and Mayo that they began to express themselves in an alternative fashion, and an unbeaten five-game run brought them to the brink of reaching the Division One final.

“We didn't get off to the best start, we know that. And last year, we started in a similar way when we didn't get off to a good start against Galway in Tuam.

“It's just a matter of putting that aside and trying to push on and improve, and I think we did that well.

“We knew we were more than capable of getting results, and we seemed to improve as the league went on.

“I think that's' very important. Even last year, we seemed to build and get stronger towards the end of the year.

“So I think that leaves us in a good position going into the start of the Championship.

“It's just a matter now of taking a bit of a rest, going away and playing with the club and coming back ready for Championship.”


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