Tyrone started the game in unfamiliar fashion and it had a big impact at both ends of the park. With Armagh’s defence dropping deep while maintaining a man-on-man approach, Mickey Harte’s charges had plenty of room to create scoring chances in front of goal. Joe McMahon’s long range opener and Martin Penrose’s score in pace from the right wing on 33 minutes bookended a run on 0-8 either from short range or in front of the posts. The first 15 minutes in particularly saw Tyrone with ample opportunity to press high but this offered Armagh opportunities on the counter.
With Tyrone playing nowhere near as deep as usual, Armagh looked to strike at speed. Brian Mallon had a goal chance on 5 minutes as the Orchard County picked apart Tyrone’s last line at speed. The breakthrough came just four minutes later. The move started inside Armagh territory with Kieran Toner in traffic on the left flank. He passed inside to the advancing Malachy Mackin who brought the ball to midfield before giving to Kevin Dyas in space. With a long ball Dyas moved play into the full forward line and Caolan Rafferty moved the ball right. With a quick crossfield ball he caught Tyrone’s defence off guard and Aidan Forker rounded into the box to finish. While it was the only major of the game, this move demonstrated the speed Armagh’s forwards operating at in the early stages. Jamie Clarke found room to cut in for two scores from short range as Armagh, despite losing the territorial battle, stayed in touch on the scoreboard. Efficiency was a big factor early as the Orchard County converted 6 of their first 9 scoring chances.
Armagh tried to press higher in defence as the first half wore on. With Tyrone dictating play in midfield, Paddy O’Rourke’s charges had to step up in order to compete. The initial returns were positive with three points in four minutes as Armagh pressured Tyrone’s kick outs. This move however made it far easier for Tyrone to switch into their own deep-lying formation. Tyrone’s passing game took over as Mark Donnelly and Dermot Carlin added scores either side of a Penrose score. Crucially Tyrone could develop these moves while frustrating the Armagh attack. From late in the first half through to start of the second period Armagh went 12 minutes of game time without scoring.
Tyrone break forward with ease
Penrose was Tyrone’s lone scorer for the first 33 minutes of the second half but the 0-4 he scored in that period was largely down to Armagh’s man-to-man approach. Without supporting defenders in play, O’Rourke’s charges were faced with too many one-on-one battles near goal. This led to some scoring chances but, more importantly, several frees that were in tap-over range for Penrose. Of the 0-5 he scored from frees, only one point from Penrose’s place-ball tally came from outside the 21 and that was inside the D in front of the posts. Tyrone may not have spread the scores around for most of the game but their forwards found room to get close to goal and this led to high percentage scoring chances. Even Stephen O’Neill and Peter Harte’s late points, both from tough angles, came after Tyrone found ample room to cut through Armagh’s cover.
Tyrone failed make much capital from the red card given to Dyas. With Armagh playing man-to-man, pushing the spare man forward would have forced Armagh into playing seven at the back. At the time Tyrone were three ahead and would have been well placed to counter. Instead by committing to defence, they gave the Orchard County room to fight back into the contest.
Armagh’s shooting choices hurt them
Conservative as Tyrone’s decision to stay deep was, it bore fruit over 70 minutes. Clarke’s score on 62 minutes was the first Armagh point for 13 minutes, their second double-digit spell in the game without a score. As Harte’s men dropped back, Armagh started missing chances. Having started 6 of 9, they converted just 4 of the next 11 scoring chances. Much of this was down to the tremendous cover at the back from Tyrone. As Armagh fought back Tyrone moved inside. There were two Tyrone defenders in front of goal out to the 21 to battle two Armagh forwards to stifle an attack on 64 minutes. Even Clarke’s final point, which came as he was moving in on goal, saw 5 Tyrone outfield players inside the large rectangle with just one orange jersey in support. That’s the kind of packed defence built to concede just one goal in their entire Division 2 campaign. Armagh’s struggles were not solely down to Tyrone’s organisation at the back. Their 8 of 17 finish to the game was littered with over-ambitious efforts from tight angles. Whereas the visitors were emphasising getting the ball in optimal position to score, Armagh’s trigger happy approach saw an excess of attempts at low-percentage ‘hero points’.
For all their attacking skill, Armagh lacked the organisation to make the most of their forwards. Against an opponent as defensively disciplined as Tyrone that is rarely likely to end well. There were flashes of brilliance from O’Rourke’s charges but a worrying lack of consistency over the course of the game. Tyrone’s attack initially looked far more adventurous than what we have come to expect but an expansive game does not suit Harte’s team. When Tyrone look to stretch the field, they leave one-on-one situations at the back for a defence built around swarm tactics. Once they switched back to their more conventional approach, Tyrone looked more comfortable in their game. Much as Armagh face a variety of options in the qualifiers, Tyrone’s face two very different prospect from their potential Ulster Semi Final opponents. Derry and Donegal meet this Saturday, two very different teams that will pose big questions next time out.
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Programming note: The next column will be post-game analysis of Donegal vs. Derry next weekend and that will be followed a week later by the first Ulster Semi Final between Down and Monaghan. For the full schedule check out our Facebook page.