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You should have spoken up earlier, Sean

By Peter Canavan

After the qualifier draw paired Tyrone with Meath, the thought struck me that the two counties are in very similar positions.

Both have been caught in a kind of tactical flux. I was looking at footage from the games they lost in Ulster and Leinster respectively and it's clear to see what they are trying to do on the pitch and what is actually happening are miles apart.

As well as that, there have been off-field issues. Both counties have, to some extent, been getting in their own way.

You saw that in Meath at the end of the league when a handful of players opted out. At that stage, much of the hard work had been completed and there was Championship football on the horizon. Still, a few decided to walk. When you are trying to build something like Andy McEntee is, that's far from ideal. Meath need everyone pulling in the same direction.

We've had a little bit of that in Tyrone too. There was an over and back played out in the media between Gavin 'Horse' Devlin and Sean Cavanagh.

Sean suggested that some players had been held back by the style of play. 'Horse' replied, stating that down through the years players have always been able to approach Mickey Harte.

For me, it is a pity Sean wasn't more vocal when he was inside the camp because it's much easier to affect change from within.

Sean's entitled to his opinion, of course, and he's entitled to express it, but I think it could have been conveyed in a less divisive manner.

To see a wedge driven between our most successful manager and one of the greatest players Tyrone has ever produced only serves the interests of those outside the county.

It's far from ideal when a team is thrust into the spotlight in that way ahead of a game that sees them put their season on the line. Tyrone have enough to be getting on with to try and rally after that disappointing defeat to Monaghan without that kind of thing.

And the row also puts one of Tyrone's most important players - Colm Cavanagh - in a difficult spot. He'll have a loyalty to both his brother Sean and his manager.

I remember Mickey getting some stick for persevering with Colm early in his inter-county career. But he kept working with him and helped turn him into the player he is today.

I'd have Colm down as one of the most important people in that Tyrone dressing room right now, and I've no doubt his leadership and drive will be central in turning around Tyrone's fortunes this year.

It was clear after the Monaghan game that Tyrone need Colm in full flow. Tyrone didn't win any of their kick-outs that went long that day after Colm went off.

And his presence will be needed against a physical Meath midfield. The good news from a Tyrone point of view is that, after being forced off against the Oriels, he came through a club match unscathed.

Both Meath and Tyrone ran into similar problems in their opening Championship games. If you look back at Longford's points against Meath, you'll notice that in many scenarios there were plenty of Meath bodies back but Longford were still able to score.

When Andy McEntee came in, I think he wanted to play a more orthodox style, where his backs would be left to deal with their opposite number man to man. He saw then that they were conceding too much and has changed things a little, and I think Meath have struggled with that.

Late in the match against Longford, they got their running game going. The ball was sticking up front and suddenly they had runners coming hard and fast. They have played well in patches, but so far they haven't been able to knit both the defensive and offensive aspects of their game together.

In that regard, they are very similar to Tyrone. I wrote in these pages before the Monaghan game about how they were in the process of changing their game plan and how they were now willing to leave an extra body up front.

I thought they looked good when they moved the ball quickly, but as the game wore on they reverted to type. When Monaghan were on the attack they would flood bodies back and you'd see Tyrone's two most advanced players in Lee Brennan and Mark Bradley sucked down the field. And if Tyrone won a turnover, they'd no out ball and were caught in the same situation as last year.

Essentially they got caught between their old style of play and the new approach, unsure of what they were trying to do in both defence in attack. Like Meath, they got plenty of bodies back but that can often lead to a false sense of security.

Having players back is fine, but they have to be active and contributing to the game rather than just marking space. There's a perfect example of that in Monaghan's goal.

If you look at the footage, there's half a dozen Tyrone bodies there but Vinny Corey still gets a clear sight on Niall Morgan's goal. It proved to be the game's crucial score.

So in Pairc Tailteann tomorrow, a lot will depend on how Tyrone set up and approach the game.

They are missing a host of inside forward options in Darren McCurry, Lee Brennan and Mark Bradley, while Ronan O'Neill was brought on and taken off last time out, which has led to Harte calling up Ruairi Sludden. He's a talented player who came up through the under-age ranks but hasn't quite reached his potential yet.

And while Kieran McGeary and Cathal McShane can operate inside, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sludden at some stage. They're without the suspended Peter Harte too, meaning it will be a very different team to the one against Monaghan.

Meath are big underdogs but I'm expecting them to bring thunder early on. That defeat to Longford will have hurt and they are at home.

The do or die nature of it might prompt a reaction from McEntee's men. Expect it to be hot and heavy from the off.

Still, I think Tyrone will find a way and I can see them getting on top in the second half. And a win in Navan can spark their season into life.

Belfast Telegraph

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