GAA Football

County Focus: Much to ponder in Tyrone despite reaching All-Ireland semi-finals

Tyrone's Cathal McShane was the team's shining light in 2019 Picture: Philip Walsh.


Story of the Season...

AT the start of the year the hope was Tyrone would get back to another All-Ireland final to see if they could narrow the gap a little bit more between themselves and Dublin. Few observers believed, however, that the Red Hands had the tools to actually beat the defending champions.

As a result, there was a distinct lack of anticipation about the All-Ireland series, even though the year produced some memorable games, especially in the All-Ireland Qualifiers.

Nobody could have imagined Cathal McShane would be the resounding success he was in the full-forward line. Nobody doubted McShane’s ability, but not just as Tyrone’s chief marksman.

The fact that the experimental ‘attacking mark’ was in place during the National League meant that a ball-winning forward was required.

McShane fitted the bill. But his scoring efficiency and raw power saw him retained there for the Championship. He was the high point of Tyrone’s year.

There was also a loosening of Tyrone’s defensive mindset, with the stationing of Mattie Donnelly higher up the pitch and the team kicking the ball more.

Derry and Antrim were easily dispatched in the early rounds of Ulster but Tyrone’s world shattered into a million pieces in their Ulster semi-final against Donegal.

Any team can have an off night.

Tyrone looked lethargic and yet they were only four points short of a rampant Donegal team.

The thinking was they could rebuild via the Qualifiers and come good again. But an All-Ireland title seemed more distant than at the beginning of the year.

Indeed, there were underlying concerns surrounding the Donegal performance.

On reflection, it was perhaps more than simply a bad night at the office.

For instance, when the stress points arrived against Donegal, Tyrone didn’t respond well.

When the stress points arrived in the second half against Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final, Tyrone never looked like finding the answers.

Just when Tyrone needed more aggression and leadership, they were worryingly passive in both of their Championship defeats.

After overcoming Longford in their opening back door game, it was felt Kildare might just have the game and physicality to spring a surprise. But a disastrous start for the Lilywhites in Newbridge and faith ebbed from Cian O’Neill’s side.

Tyrone’s much-maligned running game was back in vogue too, but still they racked up 2-22 and a week later they steamrollered a hapless Cavan side in Clones that hadn’t quite re-calibrated since losing an Ulster final.

Tyrone had steadied themselves by banking on their running game but even allowing for these impressive wins, a Mayo, a Kerry or a Dublin would be where the real tests were for the Red Hands.

They handled a muscular and energised Roscommon in their Super 8s opener, with Niall Morgan’s reflexes keeping Anthony Cunningham’s forwards at bay.

And there were worrying signs against a resurgent Cork at Croke Park until Mattie Donnelly was pushed further forward and steered the Red Hands through a difficult second half.

With their semi-final berth assured, the visit of Dublin to Omagh in the Super 8s was a non-event.

Kerry turned up in the All-Ireland semi-final and, defensively speaking, didn’t know what they were doing in the first half.

Leading 0-9 to 0-5 at the break, it seemed certain Tyrone would set up an All-Ireland sequel with the Dubs.

But Kerry emerged in the second half and went back to their footballing instincts, ditching their sweeper system, helped in no small part by the arrival of Tommy Walsh and the significant improvement of all the Kerry forwards.

Like the Donegal game, when their backs were to the wall, Tyrone didn’t react.

Niall Sludden’s 53rd minute substitution was a curious decision by Harte but even if the Dromore man had stayed on, it’s unlikely Tyrone would have been able to resist the Kerry tide.

Afterwards, Mickey Harte remarked that Tyrone were still a “work-in-progress” but four years on from the U21s All-Ireland victory it might just be the case that the All-Ireland semi-finals is this team’s ceiling.


What They Need…

A NEW backroom team was the first thing on Mickey Harte’s to-do list this autumn and Tyrone are well on their way to replacing departed backroom team members Peter Donnelly and Stevie O’Neill.

Kevin Madden was unveiled as part of Tyrone’s new-look backroom team on Monday night and is a shrewd appointment. The former Antrim forward spent the last four years at Creggan Kickham's and was desperately close to landing a county title last season, only to lose by a point to Erin’s Own, Cargin.

He’s also spent time with Derry in the late Noughties, under the tutelage of Damian Cassidy, and Oak Leaf clubs Glenullin, Loup, and Dungiven.

An impressive thinker about the game, Madden has been writing a Gaelic Football column for The Irish News for the last decade and has earned rave reviews for his analysis.

Madden will add fresh thinking to the Tyrone set-up as they need to keep working on playing a more direct, quicker style of play. Given that the current crop of players have been conditioned to play a running game over the last number of years, some have been slow to adapt to kicking the ball more.

And there was plenty of evidence in the Donegal and Kerry defeats that indicated Tyrone need more players to take leadership roles in the team.

In adversity, Tyrone teams of the past always showed the necessary grit and were never passive.

Clearly, though, Tyrone are short of that extra bit of quality that is preventing them from making more podium appearances.

Indeed, you could persuasively argue that Mickey Harte has done exceptionally well over the last few seasons to get Tyrone close to the biggest prizes, but to scale that last bit of the mountain no amount of tactical tweaking will suffice.

They need to nurture the best of what the U20 squad has to offer.

Darragh Canavan and Sean Og McAleer could add a bit more craft to the Tyrone attack, while the team also needs a bit more aggression in defence.

In order to develop some of those U20 starlets it might take 24 months to see them acclimatize to the senior ranks. Killyclogher’s Mark Bradley is back home, however, and could do damage feeding off Cathal McShane next season.  


Manager Status…

WHEN you lose two vital cogs of your managerial team after reaching an All-Ireland semi-final, there is reason for Tyrone supporters to feel discomforted. Peter Donnelly joined Ulster Rugby and raised eyebrows when he agreed to become part of Monaghan’s new backroom team, although it is understood he offered to stay on in his native county on a part-time basis.

Stevie O’Neill stepping away was another hammer blow to Mickey Harte. However, Kevin Madden’s recent recruitment is a bit left-field but people on the Antrim and Derry circuits will not be surprised by this move, as he’s regarded as one of the best coaches in Ulster. The Portglenone man will be expected to work with the Tyrone forwards but Harte has indicated that he will have a wider brief.

Although there’s been no official confirmation yet, Ulster Rugby’s Jonny Davis is expected to become the squad’s new strength and conditioning coach, replacing Donnelly who has gone in the opposition direction.  


Mr Consistency...

CATHAL McShane was easily Tyrone’s most consistent performer in 2019. A measure of consistency is how well you’re performing when the team is struggling. When Tyrone were wilting McShane’s performance levels never wavered.

Even though Tyrone were running on sand against Donegal in the Ulster semi-finals, McShane was their best player.

Against Kerry in their ill-fated All-Ireland semi-final, he was a contender for man-of-the-match.

He finished the Championship as the country’s top scorer with 3-49.

The most remarkable aspect of McShane’s play in 2019 was the swiftness with which he became a deadly finisher.

As outlined by Peter Canavan and Philip Jordan, McShane’s shooting was probably one of the weakest aspects of his game 12 months ago.

It is unfathomable to think of just how much time the Owen Roe’s man spent on the training field to become a scoring phenomenon this year.


End of the Line…

COLM Cavanagh hinted strongly towards inter-county retirement after the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kerry last month. Given the injury woes he’s faced in recent times, the Moy man has done well to extend his county career to this point.

If he is to sign off, then he will have done so on a typically resilient display against the Kingdom. The affable midfielder/defensive sweeper owes his county nothing after 12 years of service where he interpreted the sweeper’s role to perfection.

Outside of Cavanagh’s possible retirement, the average age of Mickey Harte’s squad is still young. As with every inter-county squad, a lack of game-time may see a couple of players drop off the panel ahead of next season.


The New Breed…

FOR Tyrone to improve they need something a bit special from the county’s underbelly in 2020 – and Mickey Harte mightn’t have to look further than Tyrone’s U20 Allstars this year to boost his options.

Colin Grimes of Loughmacrory appears to have the necessary skills set to push for a wing-back berth at senior level. He’s aggressive and attacks the ball at pace, traits that the seniors are in dire need of.

Conor Quinn of Galbally made a great impression for the young Red Hands this year at full-back and will be on Harte’s radar.

Young playmaker Darragh Canavan comes from a decent gene pool and appears to have that uncoachable quality of awareness his father Peter had.

Canavan Og plays in the future and although he still has another year at the underage grade, he definitely has the game to push for a place in the senior ranks.

He established a brilliant relationship with Gortin’s late developer Sean Og McAleer – a player who didn’t make an impression on any underage teams until now.

McAleer has that killer instinct and eye for goal that is sorely lacking in the seniors and is certainly worth trialling in the McKenna Cup.




SINCE the all-conquering U21 class of 2015 joined the senior ranks in that same season, Tyrone have reached four All-Ireland semi-finals out of five (one final in 2018), but have not managed to win the big prize. In that five-year period, they have won two Ulster titles (2016 and 2017).



2019 Championship

Ulster SFC quarter-final

Tyrone 2-23 Antrim 2-9

Ulster SFC semi-final

Tyrone 0-15 Donegal 1-16

All-Ireland SFC Qualifying round two

Longford 1-14 Tyrone 2-15

All-Ireland SFC Qualifying round three

Kildare 1-15 Tyrone 2-22

All-Ireland SFC Qualifying round four

Cavan 0-7 Tyrone 1-20

All-Ireland quarter-final Group Two

Roscommon 0-13 Tyrone 0-17

Tyrone 2-15 Cork 2-12

Tyrone 0-13 Dublin 1-16

All-Ireland semi-final

Tyrone 0-18 Kerry 1-18

Championship tally for (average):

9-158 (20.56)

Championship tally against (average):

9-120 (16.33)



All-Ireland SFC semi-final

Croke Park, August 11

Tyrone 0-18 Kerry 1-18

Tyrone: N Morgan (0-2 45s); P Hampsey, R McNamee, R Brennan; M McKernan (0-1), C Meyler, K McGeary; C Cavanagh, R Donnelly (0-1); F Burns, P Harte (0-1 free), N Sludden (0-2); C McShane (0-7, 0-3 frees), M Donnelly (0-2).

Subs: C McAliskey (0-1) for Sludden (52), T McCann for McGeary (57), D McCurry (0-1) for Cassidy (64), B Kennedy for Cavanagh (69).



Kerry 7 6 0 1 21 12

Mayo 7 5 0 2 10 10

Tyrone 7 4 1 2 13 9

Dublin 7 4 0 3 23 8

Galway 7 4 0 3 -7 8

Monaghan 7 2 0 5 -11 4

Roscommon (R) 7 1 1 5 -30 3

Cavan (R) 7 1 0 6 -19 2

Final position: Third

Kerry 0-11 Tyrone 0-7

Tyrone 0-10 Mayo 2-13

Roscommon 1-10 Tyrone 1-10

Tyrone 1-16 Monaghan 0-12

Tyrone 1-15 Cavan 0-9

Dublin 1-11 Tyrone 1-14

Tyrone 3-15 Galway 1-14


“I think this team is a work in progress and I think they will continue to compete at a high level.”

- Mickey Harte believes Tyrone can get better

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