Kicking Out: The three reasons Donegal will beat Tyrone
THERE are three reasons why Donegal will beat Tyrone on Sunday.
The first is Michael Murphy.
The second, related to a point, is that Tyrone have a serious headache over defensive match-ups.
Thirdly, Donegal’s height around the middle will dictate the terms.
Michael Murphy has always come in for special treatment in games against Tyrone. Justin McMahon had success, Padraig Hampsey did briefly too.
But as their attack has developed, Donegal have become less reliant on him to carry them.
Last year’s game in Breffni Park was the prime example. Murphy was outstanding, and it was all in small bursts.
Their use of him on kickouts was brilliant. They’d isolate him against Hampsey, he’d pull into space and Patton would hit him.
It seems almost certain that Hampsey will be missing this weekend.
They had changed the match-up in the league game two weeks ago, with Rory Brennan moving on to Murphy.
The Trillick man has been the go-to man-marker in Tyrone football for the last few years. His mobility would have caused Murphy problems going the other way.
But with a 12-week ban now sitting against his name, Mickey Harte seems set to be without both of his first-choice options for the job.
Nobody else obvious jumps out of the line-up.
If they’re determined to put a sticker on Murphy, it’s hard to see who will do it.
Conor Meyler has done a job on Brian Fenton in the past, but there's a big physical difference and Meyler is almost certain to pick up Ryan McHugh.
So there’s a chance that Tyrone will have to let Murphy roam free and just have him picked up by the nearest defensive body when he steps into the attacking 45’.
It all leaves Mickey Harte with a serious defensive issue.
In that sense, Declan Bonner could play into his hands by not selecting Oisin Gallen and leaving Jamie Brennan as the only out-and-out inside forward on the team.
That would allow Ronan McNamee to pick him up. That would allow Tyrone to disguise their issues in the other man-marking slot.
When McNamee picked up Gallen two weeks ago, it meant Brennan got a real run at it.
The same happened down in Castlebar, where McNamee was tied up with Aidan O’Shea.
Brennan scored 1-2 from play two weeks ago. Tommy Conroy scored 1-4 from play on Sunday.
Tyrone have tried four different men in the position in two weeks.
They have masked their defensive issues of late, but haven’t been able to against Donegal.
In three Championship years from 2015-2017, Tyrone kept 12 clean sheets in 17 games, and only conceded 12 goals.
The last two seasons, they’ve had just five clean sheets and conceded 17 goals in 20 games.
It seems as though Donegal will go with Michael Langan as a roving 14, with Peadar Mogan, Niall O’Donnell and Ciaran Thompson in the half-forwards.
Langan will go out around the middle on kickouts and along with Murphy, Thompson, Jason McGee and Hugh McFadden, they will present a quintet that presents the third big problem for Tyrone.
Brian Kennedy looks likely to start, but other than that, there’s a deficiency of height that Donegal will look to play on.
Mayo native and former manager Stephen Rochford was among the small number in attendance in MacHale Park on Sunday.
He had clearly utilised his local contacts to get a front-row look at the differences between the Tyrone side Donegal faced last weekend and the one they’ll face this weekend.
Rochford will have seen how they pressed David Clarke’s kickout when they had the wind at their backs.
They committed big numbers forward to the point where, at times, Niall Morgan was out marking Tommy Conroy.
It preyed on David Clarke’s eternal struggle off the tee, and brought huge rewards.
They won’t do that on Sunday.
Tyrone will largely concede the Donegal kickout, because Shaun Patton is not David Clarke.
If Tyrone push up, Patton will drive it out over the top of them, and Donegal will be in on goal.
The worry that Rochford will have taken back to Convoy is Tyrone’s new-found threat of the same.
In MacHale Park, they pulled their two midfielders wide, left a huge gap down the middle and played on Conor McKenna’s physical strength.
While many are expecting him to play inside, it seems more probable that he’ll be largely at centre-forward with a brief to add his weight to the kickout battle.
Niall Morgan kicked right out over Mayo’s midfield several times at the weekend, including on the first goal.
Donegal have that wall of yellow giants, though. McGee, McFadden, Murphy, Langan and Thompson is a quintet that is very hard for opposition teams to find a way past.
If they don’t drop one a bit deeper to protect against the long kick to McKenna, they could pay a price.
There will be times when they aren’t able to close up all the gaps, but they tend to operate in five-minute waves. They’ll turn one over, get a shot away, and they’ll stay squeezed right up for the next two or three.
In the League tie, Donegal turned over three Morgan kickouts in a row to go at a crucial stage in the first half.
They won two out of three at 2-9 to 1-8 and should have returned more than a point.
Tyrone were still in it at 2-12 to 1-11, but Donegal then created a one-on-one for a long kickout of their own, then won Tyrone’s next restart. They scored off both and the gap went back out to six.
There is only so much Niall Morgan can do in terms of finding ways out.
Only a complete systems failure will see Donegal lose.