Tactics not Passion: Previewing Tyrone vs. Donegal

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Ahead of this Saturday’s second Ulster Football Semi Final, between Donegal and Tyrone, Emmet Ryan breaks down the key tactical battles we can expect to see.

Can Tyrone make room up front?

Four years ago it would have been sacrilege to question the attacking capabilities of Tyrone. If we look at their average score of nearly 18 points in League games, it would initially appear likewise today. Mickey Harte’s men however have struggled to break down nuanced defences in recent times. With the exception of their win over Kildare at the start of league play this year, the current generation of Tyrone footballers have struggled against outfits that can match them for organisation at the back.

Dublin have won their last three competitive encounters with Tyrone, Kildare avenged that regular season defeat with a comprehensive display in the Division 2 Final, and Donegal of course took down Tyrone at this stage last year in Ulster. Though the foe was timid the last day, there was nothing to suggest Donegal have lost an ounce of defensive zeal in their meeting with Derry. For Tyrone to emerge triumphant on Saturday they must solve arguably the most complex defensive scheme in the game today.

Will Donegal take any insight Armagh?

Tyrone opened their first game of their Ulster campaign with a more open approach than expected. Harte’s charges didn’t quite embrace Armagh’s man-on-man game early but their attempt to show attacking resolve left oceans of space at the back. Armagh failed to push into a game-winning position largely as their defence didn’t secure quality possession for the attack.

It’s safe to say this is an are Donegal will look to target. Jim McGuinness’ charges have taken a more blended approach to the passing game this year but consistency and control of the tempo remain core principles. A counter-attacking game moving bodies into attack in waves, albeit without the dramatic qualities of Crossmaglen, could pose big questions for Harte’s charges. A switch to a deep defence, particularly around the goal area, proved vital for Tyrone last time out and Donegal will look for ways to draw the cover out on Saturday.

Ball movement matters

That Division 2 Final against Kildare summed up everything that frustrates Tyrone supporters at present. Their execution was solid, their defence organised, but their strategy simply wasn’t sufficient to keep them in the fight against a team with a near-mirror defence. This is why Peter Harte’s running play, both on and off the ball, will be crucial. Harte’s movement effectively needs to be the element of Tyrone’s attack that brings disorder to Donegal’s lines.

When an opponent confuses you the sensible option may seem to be to try and find a way to make sense of what they are doing. For Tyrone perhaps the more effective answer here will be to fight fire with fire and try to perplex the Ulster champions with Harte. That could potentially enable Tyrone’s disciplined distribution to have a bigger role in attack.

Ball-movement of course has been an area of great success for Donegal in 2012. Michael Murphy’s chief role just in front of midfield is vital in dictating not just the flow of attack but also the positioning of opposing defenders. This allows Colm McFadden and Paddy McBrearty to pose far greater attacking threats as twin target-men.

The verdict

Exciting as Tyrone’s victory over Armagh last time out proved in terms of entertainment, the performance did nothing to suggest they have advanced from 2011. While still a probable quarter final team come the All-Ireland series, Harte’s charges are no longer the undisputed kings of Ulster. To win this game Tyrone must show greater attacking dynamism and the ability to dictate the tempo for the bulk of the 70 minutes. Donegal have been far from consistent in 2012 but when they have been good, they have been very, very good. The men from Tír Chonaill have never won back-to-back provincial crowns. The bookies have them as 1 point favourites to get a shot at doing so this year. That seems overly cautious but Harte’s teams are rarely beaten out the gate. Look for Donegal to progress and set up an Ulster Final with Down.

Follow Emmet Ryan on Twitter.

Programming note: The next column will be a preview of Dublin and Wexford, which will go live on Thursday. The review of Donegal vs Tyrone will go up either Saturday evening or Sunday morning, I will tweet when I know for sure either way. For the full schedule check out our Facebook page.

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