Cahair O’Kane: Tyrone have the forwards to make a mark, but not the shape

Reliance on individual moments of brilliance undermines that when it comes to it, Tyrone simply don’t score enough to win big games

Darragh Canavan
Darragh Canavan has grown over the last year into Tyrone's key man, but his moments of brilliance are undermined by the way the Red Hands attack generally. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

SO much of Peter Canavan’s greatness was that, despite his size, he wasn’t this wee dainty inside forward that could only deal with the ball fed in low into the space.

He was a ball-winner, fit to roll with the punches and throw a few back if needs be.

Growing up in the townland of Seskilgreen, he learned his trade the hard way that so many Irish siblings did.

Games in the garden with Steven and Pascal toughened him up no end. A fierce competitive streak ran through the lot of them.

Nothing would be given easy to the wee brother.

It’s very difficult to write about Darragh and Ruairi Canavan now and not compare them to what has gone before.Perhaps it’s part of why Darragh in particular has actively shunned the limelight since breaking into the Tyrone team.

We know virtually nothing about him aside from what we see for 70 minutes on a weekend.

There are no feature pieces, no sit-downs, no podcasts.

Darragh’s inter-county career spluttered through its first couple of seasons, interrupted by injuries as his body tried to adjust to what he needed it to be.

That part of his journey looks close to completion.Take the first score he got against Mayo last weekend. It was a ball kicked in when he was one-against-two, with no right to win it, go past Sam Callinan, steady up and kick from the wrong side with the right foot.

Forget the finish. It was the way he secured possession was so reminiscent of his father’s best quality. That he didn’t care for his own safety, that he was outnumbered and disadvantaged and not the biggest morsel on God’s greenery.

That was his ball, and damned if you’re taking it off him.

The goal he netted in the second half underlined everything that he and Tyrone are right now, the good and the bad.

That goals have become such a precious commodity gives a good indication of where things are going wrong.

In 28 league and championship games since they won the All-Ireland, Tyrone have failed to score a goal 17 times.

That’s a worse record than anyone around them. Derry (7 blanks in 33 games), Kerry (8/33), Galway (10/33), Dublin (12/31), Armagh (14/30), Mayo (15/31) and Monaghan (16/30) all have better goalscoring records than Tyrone.

And it’s not just goals.

Look at the points they kicked in Killarney on Sunday.

The only time you could say they really got in behind Kerry organically in the entire game was when Ben Cullen ghosted in to fire over from a tight angle.

Their goal came off a half-hit shot that fell nicely. Seanie O’Donnell hooked a first-half point in a similar scenario.

Tyrone’s attacking play looks appears completely off-the-cuff.

They have an awful tendency to clog their own space.

In one first-half attack against Mayo, Conn Kilpatrick was inside and there was space until three different players made runs right across the inside of the ‘D’, just to get to the other side.

They had no eyes for the ball and all they succeeded in doing was cutting off the space. Support wasn’t coming on the wings, the kick was cut off and inevitably, they were turned over.

Kilpatrick moving to full-forward is a regular feature of their play and yet you have to wonder why. The premise of it has merit, because he’s a serious operator under a high ball and really direct, but they utilise him so seldom that it defeats its own purpose.

The Edendork man also happens to be their most explosive ball-carrier. When he runs at a team down the middle, they often have to foul him or let him go.

But by having him standing on the six-yard line waiting on a ball that they never kick in, they’re robbing Peter and not even paying Paul with it.

Canavan has been playing closer to goal this spring but they look for him so early on the break.You can see they want to use the boot in transition but they’re kicking low into space for him and by the time he’s collected the ball, he’s 40 yards out on the wing with four men to beat.

Contrast that with Shane McGuigan, who Derry almost never kick the ball to. He plays almost exclusively on the loop and it is devastatingly effective.

Tyrone don’t get any depth into their attacking shape, they clog up the ‘D’ on themselves, they leave Conn Kilpatrick standing foundered and ultimately, if Darragh Canavan or Darren McCurry don’t do something special, they don’t really score.

Tyrone have just become hugely reliant on those moments of individual brilliance.

It may be a strategy that has worked for Kerry, but they have the boul’ Clifford. Nobody else can afford that.

When the Red Hands came up against Kerry in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, they had scored just six points after 52 minutes, two of them outstanding efforts from Darragh Canavan.

Diarmuid O’Connor’s goal at that point brought Jack O’Connor’s side on to 1-14.

Against Monaghan weeks previous, they surprised everyone by going man-to-man and creating a load of space.

By half-time, they had 1-10 on the board.

But Vinny Corey got it worked out at the break, clogged up the middle and Tyrone lost the second half 2-10 to 0-8 because they couldn’t play through it.

With the quality of players they have, it is fixable.

Brian Dooher has decisions to make when he has his full hand available. The younger boys are learning the hard way – take Niall Devlin having to go toe-to-toe with Paudie Clifford – but they’ve also brought a bit of spark back.

It’s been in the form of him and Aidan Clarke and Seanie O’Donnell and Ciaran Daly that they’ve made any fist of staying in Division One.

After almost three seasons of giving the 2021 team almost in its entirety chance after chance to redeem itself, they’re about ready to move on with a crop that have All-Ireland U20 medals in their pocket from two years ago.

But they also need to give their brilliant forwards a chance by offering them some kind of structure and not leaving them to their own devices, hoping they beat three men and kick one over from the sideline.

Their league revival last year, where they won the last three to stay up against the odds, proved a false dawn.

The win over Mayo wasn’t convincing enough to suggest anything had changed. They brought a bit of life to Kerry and then next thing, they’re 0-17 to 0-9 down again and enduring the same struggle.

With Darragh Canavan developing into one of the country’s best forwards, Darren McCurry showing signs, Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly on the way back, Tyrone have the attacking players to make a fist of summer.

They just don’t have the attacking shape.