Peter Canavan: ‘Conversion from running men to kicking kings more evolution than revolution’

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Peter Canavan: ‘Conversion from running men to kicking kings more evolution than revolution’

 


Mickey Harte hasn’t thrown the baby out with the bath water. Photo: Sportsfile
Mickey Harte hasn’t thrown the baby out with the bath water. Photo: Sportsfile

The championship starts for us in Tyrone in the way the last few have – with a real sense of hope that this is the year it all comes together.

I’ve written before in these pages that I think Tyrone will win an All-Ireland title in the next few years and nothing I’ve seen over the last few years has changed my mind.

With a good age profile in the squad, a manager who has been around the block and an ever-improving level of physical fitness, Tyrone have a lot of the raw materials. Throw in the fact that, from my experience, nothing whets your appetite for success like an All-Ireland final defeat and the picture starts to look very rosy. There’s still work to do, but all in all I believe Tyrone are in good place.

Despite what you might have been told, Tyrone put down a league that was about evolution rather than revolution.

Games against Dublin in Croke Park always bring an extra attention and focus. And when the inside pairing of Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane helped bring down Jim Gavin’s men, some of the commentary would have you believe that the game’s running men had turned into kicking kings overnight. Anyone paying attention would know that wasn’t even half-true.

There’s no one in Tyrone football who would tell you they didn’t need to be less predictable in attack. The All-Ireland semi-final of 2017 made that point. Last year’s final loss rammed it home.

There were several teams around the country that Tyrone could gallop into the ground playing their counter-attacking style. But the higher up the food chain you went, the less effective that was. Tyrone needed something different.

But it would also be wrong to imagine that Mickey Harte has suddenly gone in a new direction and that the baby was thrown out with the bath water. That’s lazy analysis.

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Just look back at last year’s All-Ireland final when Mark Bradley was the beneficiary of some long, accurate kicking as Tyrone started well in the opening exchanges.

I can go back to a league match in Omagh in 2017 when Sean Cavanagh and Donnelly were paired inside together. It didn’t always work well, but it showed Tyrone were aware of their own shortcomings and were working on them.

It wasn’t just a case of starting to kick it longer and more often. There are so many other factors at play, including what way the opposition play, whether you have the decision makers out the field to deliver the right ball at the right time and whether the men inside can win their fair share of ball.

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Bradley led the line last year, as skilful a footballer as we have produced in recent years, but he needs a certain type of ball. Donnelly would have been an excellent foil for him, but Tyrone needed him both around the middle third and in front of goal.

That scenario has changed slightly. The emergence of two big, physical players like Brian Kennedy and Ben McDonnell and the rich vein of form of Mattie’s brother Richie means Harte can leave Donnelly inside for longer.

McShane is another who has probably suffered for his versatility in his senior career. I worked with him as Tyrone won the U-21 All-Ireland in 2015 and we used him at midfield, but he also has the skills to play inside as he’s strong, athletic and has good hands with a keen eye for goal.

I think you can see Stevie O’Neill’s influence in how they played towards the end of the league.

On Sunday, I think you’ll see a mix of those two styles. Tyrone won’t abandon their running game and slavishly kick long. They’re more likely to pick the best option for a particular situation.

Derry are coming into the game with a better mindset than they have had in the last couple of meetings and in Tyrone, they haven’t forgotten the performance they produced when they came to Omagh in 2006.

Tyrone were the All-Ireland champions going into that game but Derry didn’t let them score a single point in the first half. Mickey Harte will be sure to remind his troops not to take our neighbours for granted.

Still, I expect Tyrone to win. A fast start could see them take care of business comprehensively in the way Mayo swept away New York, but if they stutter early on they might fall over the line like Galway did in London.

It’s step number one for Tyrone. Being drawn in the preliminary round means they’ll have to play four games to win Ulster and eight games to reach an All-Ireland final if they go through the front door.

It’s a long road ahead, but it’s a journey they can start with plenty of optimism.

Irish Independent