Saturday 14 December 2019

More at stake in Omagh than just a phoney battle

All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, Tyrone v Dublin (Omagh, Tomorrow, RTE2 4.0)

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte
Peter Harte of Tyrone in action against Michael Fitzsimons of Dublin during last year’s All-Ireland final at Croke Park

Maybe the most enlightening interview Mickey Harte gave this year came after his team had scored 2-22 in Newbridge on June 29th.

The performance, all hard running and weaved patterns, complimented with the occasional popped pass to the lethal Cathal McShane, demonstrated that Tyrone would almost certainly be All-Ireland contenders again this year.

Yet it came just three weeks after their identity crisis in Breffni Park, when Donegal routed them everywhere but the scoreboard in a four-point defeat in the Ulster semi-final.

There and then in Newbridge, it seemed like Harte had performed a simple reversion to type.

And Tyrone were far more comfortable in their skin.

Question: 'Would you admit it's gone back over the last couple of weeks to the way you had been playing (last year)?'

Mickey Harte: 'Well, was there anything wrong with the way we'd been playing last year?'

Q: 'You would admit that it's a change?'

MH: 'It's not necessarily a change. You have to adapt and you have to play to what's before you. I mean you got to adjust, you got to adapt.

'Some day we're playing a different team, then we have to play a different way to deal with them.

'So you got to know your opposition and you got to know how you can best achieve what you want against the opposition that's in front of you.

'So there's a lot of time and effort and energy put into analysing games nowadays and analysing the opposition.

'There is no single script for this game but there's a basic gameplan that people can adapt and then be flexible with it.

'That's the name of the game. Flexibility, adaptability is being able to change when change is needed.'

Q: 'You can see though the way you have played over last couple of weeks hasn't been as effective in Croke Park, you struggled against the better sides in Croke Park?'

MH: 'That's something you and some of the people in your business keep talking about. I don't necessarily agree with that.'

Q: 'Why would that be?'

MH: 'Because I don't believe it's true.'

Q: 'You look at the games against Dublin and you probably had more joy last year?'

MH: 'Did you look at the game we played against Dublin this year in the league?'

Q: 'Yeah.'

MH: 'And how did we do in that?'

Q: 'But you were probably pressed a bit higher up that day.'

MH: 'I'm not so sure we were playing very different than we played today.'

Harte wasn't being prickly.

But nor was he about to accept the broad brush strokes of tactical analysis about his team.

Yes, against Kildare in Newbridge that day, a strategy based on a running game and a deep-lying, tightly-knitted defence - quintessentially Tyrone under Harte - was the correct plan.

But on another day, it might be something different.

And given how they profited from a totally contrasting style in Croke Park back in March, Tyrone's set-up tomorrow in Omagh will be fascinating.

That night, they kicked long, early ball to McShane and Mattie Donnelly and tore into Dublin physically.

But as Harte is also well aware, Tyrone's crime in last year's All-Ireland final and the 2017 semi-final wasn't being too defensive.

It was being too predictable.

Maybe Harte will keep his masterplan for Dublin under lock and key for a possible All-Ireland final.

But if beating Dublin in a League match in March was worth putting so much work into, surely inflicting a first Championship loss in five years on Jim Gavin's team just a week away from out from their All-Ireland semi-final has a certain value?

For his part, Gavin will be keener to preserve that record than he will be to manipulate which team Dublin play in the All-Ireland semi-final.

His team have won their last three games in Omagh in League and Championship and the mystique of the venue and Harte's teams have been completely decommissioned over the past three years.

This is the ideal opportunity to harden Dublin against a team with sufficient strength and athleticism in a summer when every other team has wilted.

If anything then, it might have more at stake than the tangible spoils of victory.

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