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Saturday 21 October 2017

Tyrone now have more firepower

Ulster champions set impressive scoring stats

Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee in action against Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara during the Allianz Football League Division 1 clash at Croke Park last February
Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee in action against Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara during the Allianz Football League Division 1 clash at Croke Park last February

Tyrone's second coming has been a long time coming.

They have by popular consensus, wandered into football's 'big four' having been in just two All-Ireland semi-finals in the past seven years and with no involvement in September's big day since their last Sam Maguire win in 2008.

Yet the ease with which they retained Ulster and the evolution of a spectacularly effective counter-attacking game has made them legitimate All-Ireland contenders again, even if questions linger over their ability to score sufficient tallies to win the biggest of matches.

Impressive

Still, the numbers are impressive. In last year's Championship, Tyrone scored 8-73 in five Championship matches, an average of 19.4 points per match. Dublin, by comparison, averaged just under 21.

That figure was beefed up by the 5-18 Tyrone blitzed against Down with in the Ulster semi-final replay however, and the 0-13 and 0-12 they scored in the provincial final and the All-Ireland quarter-final respectively demonstrated again how Tyrone can struggle for scores when their own methods are applied against them.

"It was like we were the only team playing that day (quarter-final) that wanted to win the game but we just couldn't put the ball over the bar," reckons defender, Ronan McNamee.

This season, they notched 3-60 in their three provincial wins, a mean of 23 points a game, although the subsequent disappearances of each of their three opponents from view suggested strongly that this year's Ulster Championship was not of the highest quality.

Neither does it answer the question of whether Tyrone's game has been better adapted for the unique environs of Croke Park or whether they have more penetrative powers against teams of similar style to their own.

Armagh, surely, will ask both those questions in the loudest terms on Saturday.

"Year on year you're going to improve," says McNamee.

"Last year if we'd played on another couple of minutes (against Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final), we would have got an equaliser.

"It was the same against Mayo in the league, where they beat us by a point. In the last 10 minutes, we had 10 attacks, they had one, and their attack was the winning point.

"Ours was seven wides and three misplaced passes. The three championship games we've played this year, we've been racking up scores, but it's just by chance it didn't happen for us before.

"Last year we could have scored 1-22 against Mayo but we didn't, and it cost us in the end. Fingers crossed that we can keep racking up the scores and not freeze again. Everybody's well capable of kicking points."

As demonstrated beautifully in their double-scores victory over Derry in the Ulster quarter-final.

Attempting to ring-fence their scoring zone with defenders, Derry let the Tyrone ball-carriers into their half untouched.

Yet when they met resistance, Tyrone just kicked points over the top of the blanket from 50 yards at their ease.

"Everybody's weighing in with scores," says McNamee, an observation backed up by the fact that 14 players have scored over the course of their three games so far and the fact that almost 30 per cent of their tally has come from their bench.

Yet Tyrone haven't suddenly dispatched with the stronger facets of their game either.

Worry

"You worry about defending first and then you break as much as you can at pace," says McNamee.

"Whether it works out or not, the other teams tend to set up well too. You could go out one day and score 1-22, the next day you might score 10 points and it could win you a game, depending on how the opposition are set up.

"There are teams that are going out like Westmeath against Dublin, going man-for-man, why would you want to do that?

"What benefit is that to any person, let alone any team?

"We'll worry about not conceding as much and then if you're getting into the position to score like the Donegal game, Kieran McGeary, Petie Harte, Mattie Donnelly, Pádraig Hampsey, all well capable of kicking points.

"Just because you have him in corner-back wearing a county jersey doesn't mean you're not capable of splitting the posts when you get up there.

"If you're committing to the attack, you're confident if the ball comes to anybody in a shooting position, you'll be able to score."

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