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Comment: Tyrone GAA need to find a new way forward

Making a point: Goalkeeper Niall Morgan has been chipping in on the Tyrone scoring charts
Making a point: Goalkeeper Niall Morgan has been chipping in on the Tyrone scoring charts
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Is there a more unpredictable beast than Tyrone during the National League? You certainly wouldn't be including them in any weekend betting accumulator, that's for sure.

Once again they have stank out their own home venue of Healy Park with a performance against Mayo that lacked several factors and, most glaringly, any energy.

It's not uncommon for Tyrone to behave like this in Omagh. In 2015, they lost by seven points to Monaghan. It was five against Dublin in 2017. And there have been several occasions where they fell behind by several points in the first half before a token rally in the second, such as Cork in 2015 and several examples against Kerry.

Aside from all of that, the Tyrone fanbase would have reasonable grounds for worry about their team right now.

In two league games, they have failed to create a goal chance and scored a mere 0-7 from play. One of those points came via goalkeeper Niall Morgan in one of his common ventures forward, while three of the others have come from Peter Harte who has been operating as a makeshift full-forward so far.

So, 0-3 from their attackers across 150 or so minutes of county football. Hey, we are stretching a point here, but it works out at a point every 50 minutes.

Last Sunday, Mickey Harte shook it up by putting in Lee Brennan even though he is mired in Sigerson Cup duty with NUI Galway - he will play in the quarter-final tomorrow.

Wanting to avoid the meagre return in Killarney (one point in the first half and that from a Morgan free, 50 minutes before the first score from play), Harte played his nephew Peter flanked by recognised score-getters Darren McCurry and Brennan.

The latter duo have similarities. They are flamboyant and full of skills and tricks, but both are heavily reliant on their left foot and are of a similar stature.

McCurry scored 2-4 against the same opposition in the 2014 league. Looking back over that game, his two goals were incredible; in the first half he slammed one to the top right corner from 20 metres, the second he was a few yards further out and placed it in the top left corner.

What has gone wrong since? It's unfair to say he is not the same player, as his club form and heavy scoring rate would attest to, since he left the county panel prior to the Championship last year.

"I felt it was the right decision and I needed to get my head cleared, just to get my hunger back," McCurry said a fortnight ago.

"When you are playing as long as I am, it is tiring on the body and on the mind. I felt like I needed it."

McCurry started brightly and was showing for a lot of ball. The problem was that the execution of the pass never got beyond Mayo's sweeper, which they constantly rotated, or if McCurry did get the ball he was doubled-teamed and suffered from a real lack of runners coming to collect it off his shoulder.

Despite that he plugged away and caught a mark and pointed it on 43 minutes, only to look up and see his number on the substitute's board straight away. He was replaced by Conal McCann, who may be a lot of things but is nobody's idea of a scoring forward.

Where was Tiernan McCann making his overlaps? Mattie Donnelly scored 0-5 from play in that 2014 league game, but last Sunday he was handed a very different brief of trying to curb Aidan O'Shea.

Peter Harte tried manfully but for the most part he had to do it all himself. Brennan was completely blotted out by Brendan Harrison.

Things may not get terribly easier. Tyrone have delivered several huge beatings to Roscommon in recent seasons but Anthony Cunningham's influence has shown they are building a meaner defence.

Tyrone have some options. Mark Bradley was the forward who stretched defences last year and while he could be persuaded back despite studying in England, he is small, nippy, left-footed… sound familiar?

Connor McAliskey may not be a frontline forward - to the extent he did not earn an All-Star nomination despite being the second-highest scorer in last year's All-Ireland Championship - but he is an honest to goodness grafter in the full-forward line who will guarantee four points. He is expected to come back midway through the league.

Darragh Canavan will surely be seen as a bit young for this role yet and was left off the matchday squad last Sunday.

So what are they left with? Of their front six that started, Kieran McGeary captained the Under-21 All-Ireland winners in 2015 as a wing back, Frank Burns is more of a middle third player and Niall Sludden is struggling and was taken off against Kerry.

The league is a strange beast in that teams have wildly different targets. Late back from a team holiday, it is possible that this side were in the midst of a heavy block of training and cramming in a lot of pre-season work over the past fortnight, hence the heavy legs.

For their sake, they must cling to that hope.

But it's only a hope.

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