Kevin Madden: Whatever team Tyrone eventually field, they'll need plenty for firepower to shoot down Kingdom
THEY say the bookies are rarely ever wrong. At odds of 6/1 Tyrone are being given little chance of causing an upset against the Kingdom. Even before the rumours of a substantial Covid outbreak in the camp, an extremely generous 5-1 was being offered. Whatever the extent of the situation, there is no denying that Tyrone’s preparations are sure to be severely hampered. Not only will the on-field training and in-house games be effected, but the hours of face to face video work and team meetings that won’t take place is time they will be unable to get back.
Who knows what the starting team will now be as it is highly unlikely every effected player will be physically and mentally recovered in time. In contrast, Kerry are fully loaded with no injury concerns. On this occasion, it looks like the odds are well and truly stacked in favour of Peter Keane’s men. But until we know more facts and see the Tyrone starting team, I wouldn’t be writing off their chances just yet. I think the 16-point hammering that Tyrone took in the league encounter may have been overstated. Everything that could go wrong that day did in emphatic fashion. To say it was a massive wake-up call is obvious, but I also believe it has been a major catalyst in improving a game-plan that looked at that point like it had no identity.
Since then, Tyrone have looked so much sounder defensively. That day they were frantically trying to plug holes while leaving big gaps elsewhere, particularly in behind the last defender and Niall Morgan. Their control and management of space was atrocious. It was a case of getting men back but it lacked structure and aggression.
Fast forward a couple of months, and with an Ulster title in the bag, Tyrone look much more formidable. Let’s not forgot the last time these two heavyweights met in Championship, there was very little to separate them.
The All-Ireland semi-final of two years ago saw Tyrone beat Kerry up for 35 minutes with a blistering display of counteracting football, before letting their four-point lead slip. Nothing got past Colm Cavanagh in that first half as he patrolled the D with precision.
With Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane up top, Tyrone played the perfect mix of a running and kicking game making Paul Murphy’s sweeping role completely redundant.
As Tyrone looked like they might be about to kick on, a misplaced Kieran McGeary hand-pass would prove to be the turning point as the ball ended up in the back of the net at the other end. That defeat really hurt those Tyrone players, perhaps even more so than the All-Ireland final loss the year previous. They mightn’t state it publicly but avenging that defeat and the embarrassment of the League mauling will be huge motivating factors.
The big calls for Fergal Logan and Brian Dooher will be whether or not to play Cathal McShane and Frank Burns from the start. Tyrone will want that safety valve between their full-back line and press so I’d expect that we might see Frank Burns come into the side in place of Michael O’Neill.
If Burns gets the nod, he will operate as a sweeper which will give them that extra layer of protection that they will need to deal with the Cliffords, Geaney, O Shea and company. How Tyrone match up will be interesting.
In the past, Ronan McNamee has marked David Clifford with Padraig Hampsey the man on Paul Geaney. But there is every possibility that Hampsey could be tasked with the main job of marking David Clifford. I wouldn’t be surprised either to see Rory Brennan come back into the team as this would give them a trio of natural man markers to occupy the two Cliffords and Geaney.
At the other end, I feel that Tyrone will need to add more punch to their attack, as 16 points is unlikely to be enough to win this game. When McShane came on in the Ulster final, he looked ring rusty as he coughed up a few balls. But in my opinion, he needs to start this game if Tyrone have any chance of upsetting the odds.
As much as Tyrone need to make this a slog-fest rather than a shoot-out, they also need to load their armoury with enough artillery to keep the scoreboard ticking over. McShane, Mattie Donnelly and Conor McKenna in the one forward line would give them serious direct ball-winning ability and scoring potential, which could really unsettle a Kerry full-back line who are not great under the high ball. But before Tyrone can attempt to answer any of the big questions that Kerry will pose on the field, they must hope and pray that they will have a clean bill of health come Saturday week.