By Niall Gartland
TYRONE player Frank Burns has lifted the lid on their metamorphosis to a more attack-minded team ahead of Saturday’s Division One clash against Kerry in Killarney.
The Pomeroy clubman confirms that the external impression that major changes are being made under the new management – though he also accepts that it’s made life less straightforward for their defenders who were perhaps accustomed to safety in numbers during the Mickey Harte era.
Burns, who started all three of Tyrone’s group stage matches, says that the game itself is evolving for the better with blanket defences no longer deemed fit for purpose.
He said: “We’re playing a different style of football than we have been over the last few years.
“We’re playing a lot more attacking football. Our defenders are under more pressure at the back, there’s a lot more space in front of them.
It’s not too hard to work that one out from watching the way we’re playing, so we need to be careful, because we’re exposed at the back.
“Football is coming round. You hear everybody talking now about how Gaelic is now better to watch nearly than the hurling.
“It was nearly boring people to watch Gaelic over the last few years, with numbers sitting back all the time, although you still have that at certain times in games.
“But there’s definitely more free-flowing football. Teams are playing three, four forwards up the pitch.
“Football is definitely in a good place, and we’re playing a more attacking style of football this year.”
Burns does point out that they did try to make changes in the final years of Harte’s tenure in response to some disappointing defeats to six in-a-row All-Ireland champions Dublin.
“When I came into the county squad, Tyrone were a defensive team. That was just the way Ulster football was at the time.
“You sorta had to play that way, and it won us Ulster titles. Then we went up against Dublin and they knew how to break this defensive system down, so we had to move on from that.
“Even coming in to the last few years, before Brian (Dooher) and Feargal (Logan) came in, we were playing a bit more attacking.
“The game has gone full circle and I’m happy enough about it, because it’s more exciting to play in, it’s more exciting to watch.
“The kick pass is back in the game a good bit more, and it’s just good for everyone.”
Over the last 10 years, Tyrone have endured a miserable record away from home against Kerry.
However, they’ll be disappointed not to come back up the road with a victory as the league final will only go ahead if Tyrone and Dublin win their respective semi-finals against Kerry and Donegal (so in effect, Kerry can only secure a joint title).
On the prospect of reaching a Division One final for the first time since they lost by a single point to Dublin in 2013, Burns said:
“It would be a big step for us. You want to be playing in a National League final.
“I don’t think Tyrone has been in one since 2013, so it’s the guts of a decade ago.
“It would be massive for the players and the management for that to happen, and of course we would love that.
“But it’s just about putting the heads down this week and trying to get things right, tactically and positionally, and we’re going to give it our best shot.”
In saying that, Burns recognises from past experience that Kerry are a formidable outfit with very serious aspirations of going the distance in the All-Ireland Championship.
“Kerry a serious team, a very good all-round team in terms of their attack and their defence.
“They’re just in a good place at the minute, and we haven’t a deadly record down in Killarney.
“We also haven’t beaten Kerry when it’s really mattered in the last decade, when it comes to semi-finals of All-Irelands or National Leagues or whatever, so it’s definitely a big challenge.”