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Comment: Tyrone still have some tricks left up sleeve ahead of Dublin showdown

 

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Glory days: Tyrone manager Mickey Harte (left) with captain Brian Dooher and the Sam Maguire Cup after their 2008 All-Ireland win

Glory days: Tyrone manager Mickey Harte (left) with captain Brian Dooher and the Sam Maguire Cup after their 2008 All-Ireland win

©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Glory days: Tyrone manager Mickey Harte (left) with captain Brian Dooher and the Sam Maguire Cup after their 2008 All-Ireland win

A decade ago, Tyrone weren't fancied to win the All-Ireland title when they faced defending champions Kerry in the final.

As a matter of fact, they were rank outsiders.

In Ulster, they were uninspiring. Down, during the first year of two-time All-Ireland winners Ross Carr and DJ Kane's reign, came up to Omagh for the Championship opener.

They had a certain dash to them, as well as a young forward named Paul McComiskey who winked at the sideline camera as he limbered up - one of the most Down things you could do.

The Mournemen snatched a draw on the day, took the Red Hands back to Newry for the replay and beat them in extra-time. Tyrone picked up a number of injuries in the process.

That season, Down failed to get out of Division Three after the league system was restructured. And, still, Tyrone could not match their intensity over two and a half games.

During the course of team meetings afterwards, Tyrone did what they do best. They curled up like a hedgehog and pointed all their needles outwards. They grew beards and some lads stepped up their efforts to get in shape with the establishment of a Monday night 'Fat Club', whose numbers grew and grew as the season wore on.

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Struggling with life after Peter Canavan, and with Owen Mulligan suffering from a lack of motivation that season, manager Mickey Harte tried Sean Cavanagh at full-forward to gain some traction in the area. Nudie Hughes told him after they beat Mayo in the third round of the qualifiers in Croke Park that it wasn't working while they were live on air for a radio interview.

As only he can, Harte asserted that he would do what suited Tyrone. Cavanagh ended up being crowned the Footballer of the Year.

As they made the final, Kerry were coming good. They had been having a difficult time of it and were well beaten in the Munster final, with Darragh and Marc Ó Sé sent off against Cork.

And yet when they got to Croke Park, they were warm favourites.

Harte then spooked them. He got 2005 Footballer of the Year Stephen O'Neill back into the squad. They coped with the 'Twin Towers' attack of Kieran Donaghy and Tommy Walsh by dropping Joe McMahon back in there to help his brother Justin.

Somehow, inexplicably and against all the forecasts, they won the day.

Why do we mention all these switches and innovations, given that they are a decade old? Only because it is the last All-Ireland final Harte has been involved in.

There have been a few clever moments since, such as the way in which Donegal were relishing the prospect of Justin McMahon having to man-mark Michael Murphy in the 2016 Ulster final after his pantomime villain role the year before.

On a roasting day, Murphy would burn McMahon off early - or so they believed. Harte instead opted for Cathal McCarron, who was perhaps the fourth likeliest of the six defenders to be tasked with dealing with Murphy. That day, he outscored him from play.

Earlier this summer, it was Ronan McNamee who picked up Monaghan ace Conor McManus in Omagh, a game that the latter decided.

Rather than repeat the match-up last Sunday in the All-Ireland semi-final, Harte put the mobile Padraig Hampsey on the Clontibret man. It was an unqualified success.

It's not just match-ups, a lot more goes into it than that. In 2003, the media had built Armagh up to have superhero levels of strength and physique. When Harte totted it up, the Tyrone players' aggregate weight was a mere ounce less than Armagh's.

Harte handed out an ounce to his players and asked them if they would let it become a defining factor in the game. Naturally, it was enough to convince them.

Did anyone really tot up the weights and work it out? Maybe. But maybe it was just a clever ploy.

Okay, at this remove, Dublin appear invincible. But they said the same about Dublin in 2014. In any team, there is something for you to get your teeth into.

For Tyrone, it is the last quarter of their Super8s game in the corridor of the Healy Park pitch. Dublin choked up four of the last five kickouts. At one stage, the Red Hands even chased the ball high up the field and Dublin looked distinctly uncomfortable.

Perhaps this ultra-high press is the last innovation.

How were Dublin saved that night?

By Ciaran Kilkenny dropping deep, becoming the extra man in defence and using his talent for sprinting into empty spaces to retain possession and kill the game. At one point Peter Harte pressed up to tackle him and, although there was significant contact, Kilkenny made the most of it and lay down, eating up a few minutes while the medics dealt with what looked like a minor bump.

In the All-Ireland final, Hampsey has to take up the Lee Keegan role and be in Kilkenny's face all evening, restricting Dublin's get-out clause.

Once they can distort the champions' natural flow, anything is possible.

From now until then, Tyrone's focus will be on delivering something that Dublin have not seen before. There is also a sense that they are peaking physically at the right time. Against Monaghan in the first round, they made just 34 tackles. That figure rose to 44 against Dublin in Healy Park and 57 against Donegal.

The final is far from decided at this stage.


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