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Derry v Tyrone - another Ulster mismatch

Dejected Derry players following their 11-point defeat to Tyrone at Celtic Park yesterday 

THE Ulster Championship as a spectacle has hit rock bottom, and in terms of its competitiveness it must be at the lowest ebb ever.

That isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to Tyrone beating Derry by 11 points as I fully expected the game to go that way.

But now, three games in, we have seen three different teams destroyed by nine, 11 and 16 points respectively.

No matter what way you dress it up, there is little entertainment in that. Many are calling for a two-tiered Championship, but in my opinion this will leave the gap between the top handful of teams and the rest even greater.

Football is in danger of going down the same path as the hurling so we must be careful that we don’t nudge it even further in the wrong direction.

As we look back on another damp squib of a game, here are my top five talking points.

1

WE can reflect on Derry’s purple patch at the beginning of the second half and wonder, had they taken their chances, could a shock have been on the cards? In those first 15 minutes,

Derry were on top everywhere but, despite completely dominating possession and creating many more chances, the five-point gap remained. We can wonder had they worked the couple of goal chances that presented themselves, instead of going for points, then maybe the dynamic of the last 15 minutes would have been a whole lot different.

Conor McAtamaney could have slipped in Emmet McGuckin but took the speculate shot instead. Enda Lynn may have opted to pass the ball to Niall Loughlin who was in on goal, but instead converted the easy point. Ifs, buts, and maybes. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

The reality is that they were given a lesson in game management by an under-par Tyrone who just had far more scoring options in attack.

2

LAST week Donegal had the luxury of bringing on Karl Lacey, Mark McHugh and Paddy McBrearty at a time when the game was becoming ragged. Their bench contributed 1-6 to completely put Antrim’s lights out.

The day before, Monaghan were able to bring in substitutes such as Owen Duffy and Dessie Mone to give them renewed vigour.

They managed to get a scoring return of 0-5 from their bench. Mark Bradley was having a mixed bag yesterday. He started brilliantly, before he was quietened by Niall Keenan who took the score of the game. Bradley then came back into the match before missing another two easy chances.

No room for sentiment so off he comes and, within seconds, his replacement Darren McCurry has the ball over the bar before following up with another two scores.

But all of the Tyrone subs who were introduced also made a big impact. Declan McClure, Lee Brennan and David Mulgrew also came in to grab scores. Derry just couldn’t cope with the Tyrone replacements nor could they match that strength in depth with game changers of their own.

3

IN last year’s fixture, Tyrone were able to manipulate their match-ups exactly as they wished. Mickey Harte would barely have believed his luck that day.

Peter Harte and Tiernan McCann burst forward from half-back at will and it was a surprise to see Shane Heavron and James Kielt trying to track them.

Both Derry forwards are tremendous finishers but were never equipped with the pace or defensive qualities to track the two fastest players on the Tyrone team. In some ways Derry got their match-ups much better this time around, with Benny Heron doing a good job in keeping tabs on Peter Harte and Niall Loughlin with Tiernan McCann.

Chrissy McKaigue had the clampers on Mattie Donnelly and Brendan Rogers was managing okay with Sean Cavanagh. But the likes of Conall McCann and the subs that came on, they never got to grips with. Tyrone had 11 different scorers (10 from play) and, in comparison, Derry only had five scorers from play.

The way Derry invited Tyrone into their defensive 45 before they engaged in the tackle left them open to some very harsh refereeing calls by Maurice Deegan in the first half. Given the big winning margin, it might seem strange to be pin-pointing the referee’s performance. But, in the first half, he gave a number of fouls against Derry which clearly were not, in my opinion.

Mark Bradley bought two handy frees, both times leaning into a Derry defender, and Conal McCann won another dubious one. That said, the Oak Leafers were their own worst enemies at times with over-zealous, lazy tackles. Tyrone scored 0-9 from frees and when you count the others that they missed, this was a glaring statistic that reflected rather poorly on Derry’s defending.

4

I CAN only manage to recall two Tyrone kick-outs won by Derry the entire game. In fairness to Niall Morgan, he was excellent at getting the ball out quickly, but Derry put up little resistance.

On one occasion in the second half, when he had to go long, Tyrone fared well with Declan McClure catching the ball before ending up on the end of the same move to score.

Tyrone won over 90 per cent of their own kick-outs, but they also got their hands on a percentage of Derry’s that led directly to a few scores.

In fairness to young Ben McKinless, he could only hit the ball to what was available but there was a big difference in kick-out strategies and the ability to secure first-time possession. Quite a few Derry kick-outs that were floated to the right half-back position were won by Tyrone.

Perhaps this one aspect of team play perfectly illustrated just how far apart Derry and Tyrone actually are.

5

THE interesting thing from a Tyrone perspective was that they won this game by 11 points without having to score a goal. Aidan McRory had the best chance but, in truth, they were never forced to go through the gears in pursuit of one. Derry had a very poor first 15 minutes and an even more dismal last quarter.

During the 40 or so minutes in between, they competed well but they totally lacked a cutting edge to make it count on the scoreboard. They had no depth to their attack as exciting talent Danny Tallon found himself completely isolated and outnumbered in the full-forward line.

The lack of options to kick the ball inside inevitably led to Derry carrying into contact too often. Tyrone got a few scores in the second half from these type of turnovers and fast counter-attacks that they have perfected so well. 

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