TYRONE’S impressive victory over Donegal was a testament to the pragmatism of their new management team, according to Ardboe coach Brian Lavery.
In the first match of Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan’s tenure – by coincidence, also against Donegal – they played three men up front, and there was a notable emphasis on kick-passing.
However, their defensive structure fell like a house of cards in a Division One semi-final defeat against Kerry, and it’s fair to say they’ve performed some major readjustments since that forgettable day down in Killarney.
In effect, they seem to have a reverted to a running game, which was deadly effective against Donegal last Sunday. Lavery makes the well-argued point that it’s not exactly a million miles away from the style of play deployed by Mickey Harte.
“You have to acknowledge the pragmatism of the new Tyrone management”, said Lavery.
“A lot of people questioned why Tyrone played a certain way under Mickey and ‘Horse’ (Gavin Devlin), and Sunday’s game shows why they did.
“The current Tyrone management tried to make subtle changes in the league, but they probably came to realise that Mickey and Gavin didn’t get an awful lot wrong. Mickey is a great manager and Gavin is a fantastic coach – these people know what they’re doing.
“Feargal and Brian want to do things their own way, but they know they have to work to the strengths of their players. They’re being very sensible, and while they’ve shown they’re not afraid to try something different, like playing Conn Kilpatrick and Brian Kennedy in the middle of the field, I think how they set-up against Donegal was a hat-tip to how good Gavin and Mickey were.”
Dynamic wing-players like Conor Meyler and Kieran McGeary ran riot in sweltering conditions against Donegal, but their task was made easier by the role performed by Mattie Donnelly in the inside forward line, particularly in the second half.
Lavery said: “Tyrone were able to get the ball to Mattie in advanced positions, and he was able to hold the ball so he could either generate a scoring chance or bring a runner into play, I actually like seeing him playing in an advanced role as he gives you that capacity.
“If you think about the instance where Donegal won a penalty in the first half, Tyrone had really committed to the attack, the ball went into Darren McCurry and he lost the ball. Tyrone went for the big press, missed it, and Donegal got out the pitch and Tyrone were stretched.
“When the ball goes in to Mattie Donnelly, he doesn’t lose it, it sticks and gives Tyrone a chance to hold their territory.
“When you’re playing the type of set-up Tyrone were playing with a lot of runners it’s a very energy-sapping game, if the ball doesn’t stick they have to turn straight away and go straight back down again. If Mattie can hold it up all of a sudden Tyrone have more options, can play it about and have more time to get set up properly on kick-outs as well.”
Lavery also said that the Red Hands did superbly well to pick off scores from the flanks while Donegal had 15 men on the pitch in the first half. It wasn’t a coincidence either that three of their points in the opening period were fisted efforts.
“Donegal have a well-manned defensive structure which makes it hard to attack down the middle. Tyrone would’ve worked on facing such a structure while in training, and they’d have known that they could get space on the wings. Kieran McGeary and Conor Meyler both fisted the ball over the bar, and when did they get those scores? In the first half when Donegal had their full complement of players and their full defensive structure in place.
“If you look at the other points Tyrone got in the first half, they were right on the edge of the scoring zone. Every yard counts against a team with a strong defensive structure, it makes teams a wee bit more comfortable.”
Lavery also expanded on the changes made in the aftermath of their crushing defeat to Kerry.
“They’re getting more men behind the ball – but they’re doing it in an intelligent manner which Donegal found hard to live with.
“They’ve changed slightly, early in the league Tyrone were trying to keep three players up at all times, they were trying to kick the ball a little bit more which means that if you lose the ball, you’re going to be slightly more stretched.
“I think Kerry was one of those days where a lot of things went wrong, but it probably gave the players and management a chance to recalibrate.
“One thing I would say about the defensive structure, if you look at the last day against Donegal, they’ve a very specific way of attacking, they run the channels very, very hard and make reverse passes to players coming off the sideline. Through that they got a number of scores against Tyrone the first day out in the league.
“If you watch the match on Sunday, and this was very evident when I was watching the game in the first half in particular because the camera at Brewster Park is on the terrace side, when Donegal were attacking down that wing, Tyrone had three players banked up on the defensive flank. Tyrone were ready for that, which might explain why Tyrone were more open down the middle than they’d have liked. It’s very hard to cover the flanks and the middle at the same time.”
He also weighed in on the performance of Tyrone sweeper Frank Burns. It wasn’t a note-perfect showing from the versatile Pomeroy player, but Lavery preferred to accentuate the positives of his performance.
Lavery, who coached the Tyrone minor team which reached the All-Ireland final in 2013, said:
“He has experience playing that role. He played it exceptionally well in 2013, and Mickey and ‘Horse’ used him as sweeper once or twice as well.
“I don’t know exactly what he was detailed to do on Sunday, but how many goals did Donegal get on Sunday?
“They got one, even though Tyrone were banking very heavily on the wings, so Frank had a very important role in the middle.
“When you look back to the Donegal penalty again, Tyrone had really committed to the move that led to the penalty, and Frank was involved in pushing the ball up the pitch.
“Donegal did very well to retain the ball when they turned over possession and generate an attack. Because Frank was in an advanced position, Tyrone were stretched, and Rory Brennan probably felt he had no choice but to drag down Jamie Brennan.
“But Frank did a reasonable job. Was he rash at times? Yes, but he had a very important job and from that perspective he did okay.
“He also did well driving forward. He hit the post in the first half, scored a point in the second, and if you remember Darren McCurry’s goal chance, Frank had intercepted the ball really aggressively and played in a great high ball which was tipped down by Mattie Donnelly, who did really well to hold off Stephen McMenamin. In the grand scheme of things Frank probably did a lot of things that the management wanted from him.”