Joe Kernan: Why Tyrone are ahead of their rivals
There are many reasons given for the demise of various teams in both the provincial and All Ireland football championships.
These can range from the unavailability of players because of injury or suspension, what is perceived to be injudicious refereeing, ill-luck or an admission that the opposition simply held too many aces.
Rarely though will it be conceded that individuals within a team that loses were uncertain of their actual roles in relation to the overall strategy employed by the management.
Yet this is quite often the real reason why teams actually come off second best in major matches. Perhaps, in some cases, the tactics set out are far too convoluted, in others they fall short of what is required to contain their opposition.
Over the course of the current championship season it has become increasingly clear that some teams have been struggling to adapt to their game plan and it is always worth remembering that if there is one weak link in the team chain then the team itself tends to suffer as a whole.
But there is one team in which every player is absolutely sure of his particular role and in which the overall blueprint is sacrosanct — and that team is Tyrone.
Much is made of the individual flair and scoring expertise which some of Mickey Harte’s players bring to the table but the real strength of the side lies in their togetherness, their unity of purpose and their unflinching belief in their own collective abilities.
A close analysis of Tyrone’s path to the Ulster title will provide pointers as to just why they emerged as top dogs and, more significantly, will offer the basis for thinking that their silverware haul will not necessarily end with the provincial trophy.
In their matches against Down and Monaghan in particular, Tyrone allowed their opponents to gain a toe-hold in the games.
Indeed in the game against Down there was the fleeting possibility that the Red Hands might have found themselves playing catch-up such was the verve and confidence displayed by James McCartan’s men in the early stages when they whisked over a succession of quicksilver points before Tyrone had emerged from the traps.
But when Harte’s foot soldiers closed ranks, pulled players back behind the ball and then launched a series of blistering counter-attacks Down’s early promise was clinically snuffed out.
Monaghan suffered a similar fate last Sunday. Lively and inventive in the early stages, they managed to create two splendid goal chances only for Tyrone custodian Pascal McConnell to foil Seamus McEnaney’s men in their bid to take control.
After that, Tyrone’s dominance became almost embarrassing. The fluency of their play was manifested in the fact that every player knew exactly what was expected of him when his team were in possession and even more importantly when they did not have the ball.
While much has been made of McConnell’s two stunning saves,
it is worth pointing out that Tyrone shot something like 11 wides — and that’s most un-Tyrone like!
There was never a hint of uncertainty in their ranks, never the slightest hint of panic. The commitment and effort were unrelenting.
And it is worth taking on board too the fact that Tyrone conceded just one goal in winning the Ulster Championship.
If that does not speak volumes for defensive efficiency then I don’t know what does. And the really frightening element from the point of view of those sides who still believe they have a chance of winning ‘Sam’ is that there is considerably more left in this Tyrone attack.
Monaghan will now go into Saturday’s fourth round qualifier against Kildare knowing that nothing less than a handsome win will help them regain the favour of their fans.
In the meantime, Tyrone have already set their sights firmly on making it past the All Ireland quarter-finals the draw for which will be made on RTE on Sunday evening.
One thing is certain — none of the winning sides which will emerge from Saturday’s qualifiers and which will form one side of the draw will fancy meeting Mickey Harte’s disciplined, well-organised outfit on the weekend after this.