Tactical analysis – Dublin vs. Tyrone, 2017

The best performance I’d look back on was probably the 2017 semi-final against Tyrone. They hadn’t crossed our paths in a couple of years and they were flying, and people said they had this game-plan where they were going to beat Dublin. They had this defensive style, and we’d struggled against Donegal and didn’t know what to expect. Our preparation for the game was off the chart. Con scored a goal early on and we ended up winning by 12 or 13 points. They were a very good team but everything we prepared for came off and we shut them down. I remember just a sense of satisfaction after that game, it was one of our best games of the Jim Gavin era.”

The words of recently retired Dublin star Paddy Andrews in an interview with the Off the Ball podcast.

It’s worth remembering the context to this particular match: Tyrone had absolutely rampaged their way through Ulster before demolishing Armagh on a scoreline of 3-17 to 0-8 in a majorly one-sided All-Ireland quarter-final clash.

So put it this way – no-one was accusing Tyrone of being overly defensive, and the feeling was that their slick counter-attacking game could ask serious questions of Dublin.

Of course, it all went belly up for the Red Hands in one of the seminal matches of the last 10 years. Dublin’s brand of smart, incisive football paved the way for a comprehensive 2-17 to 0-11 victory over a shell-shocked Tyrone, and, in fairness, the Red Hands took stock and made it to their first All-Ireland final in a decade the following year.

However, there’s no doubt that they’re tactic of employing a one-man full-forward line was ultimately ruinous for the team, and we’ve decided to take a look back at the first 20 minutes of their infamous semi-final defeat.

1 minute 30 seconds

Stephen Cluxton launches the ball 70 metres from the kick-out tee, Niall Scully makes a great catch and Dublin end up scoring from a free. ‘An exercise in simplicity,’ according to co-commentator Martin Carney.

3 minutes 36 seconds

An early sign of Tyrone’s tactical ineffectiveness, as Peter Harte hits a low-angled ball which is gobbled up by the Dublin defence. Lone inside forward Mark Bradley is already looking very isolated.

4 minutes 20 seconds

Niall Sludden gives the ball away in the middle of the field – though it should be said that the referee got in his way. Dublin move forward and Con O’Callaghan, running directly the goal, scores a sublime individual major with the Tyrone defence out of position and panicking.

5 minutes 12 seconds

Tyrone went searching for a reply, but the Dublin defence had blocked off the central channels and Mattie Donnelly’s shot from a tricky angle went well wide.

7 minutes 5 seconds

Tiernan McCann hits a fantastic score from all of 55 yards – but he really had no other option but to shoot or recycle the ball as there was no-one ahead of him.

9 minutes

Paddy Andrews gets his second point in-a-row, and Dublin  show the best way to beat the blanket defence; composure on the ball, swift hand-passing and taking their shot as soon as the opportunity presents itself. They lead 1-3 to 0-2.

10 minutes 27 seconds

John Small drags Peter Harte to the ground off the ball.  Cynical and all as it is, Small still did an excellent job at negating the influence of one of Tyrone’s dangermen.

11 minutes 45 seconds

Patience, patience, patience. Dublin pass the ball around for 90 seconds, making full use of the width of the pitch, before Ciaran Kilkenny’s snap-shot splits the posts.

15 minutes 55 seconds

It’s notable that the Tyrone defenders are standing off their men. Dublin are patient as always, but a gap opens up and a lightning quick exchange of passes culminates in a Dean Rock point.

17 minutes 22 seconds

Colm Cavanagh strikes an inspirational point after bursting through a number of Dublin challenges, but it’s notable that the Dubs also employed a blanket defence when necessary.

18 minutes 12 seconds

Dublin always have someone available – Philly McMahon is surrounded by Tyrone men, but he gets a pass away to Con O’Callaghan who jinks into space and taps over a point. 1-6 to 0-4 reads the scoreboard.

18 minutes 30 seconds

Tyrone are hemmed into their own half of the field. Niall Morgan plays a short kick-out, and they manage to mount a rare attack, but Dublin are comfortable and DD Mulgrew hits a bad wide from distance.

20 minutes 45 seconds

Dublin play keep ball for another minute or so, but they have runners popping up all over the place and Brian Fenton scores a lovely point from 35 yards out. 1-7 to 0-4 and the game was as good as over given Tyrone’s conservative approach.

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