Dublin Tyrone – Tactical Analysis – Where Tyrone Erred

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When breaking down Tyrone’s performance against Dublin in Sunday’s All-Ireland final, it’s worth pointing out that, putting aside Dublin’s brilliance, it’s difficult to argue anything at this point but that Mickey Harte is and has been one of the top tacticians of the game.

It’s been a wise county board that has kept him and place and it will be equally wise to keep him on place for the foreseeable future.

And as much as Dublin appeared to and indeed did win at a canter, there was only 1-3 between the sides on the 62 minute mark. And the goal came off the back of an initial unforced handling error and then a pieces few pieces of individual brilliance from Con O’Callaghan.

Structurally speaking, Tyrone weren’t actually that far off the mark. Saying that, I couldn’t help but feel that they probably got one tactical element wrong and definitely got a second one wrong.

When I wrote my analysis for sportsjoe on their blitz of Donegal in the Ulster semi-final, one of the key elements I had noted was the manner in which they had spent the majority of the game with what I consider to be the maximumly efficient structure – maintaining a centre forward and full forward for the majority of the game.

Frankly, I believe that this should be a set-in-stone policy for all teams in virtually all circumstances. As it did for Tyrone that day against Donegal, it allows for a counter-attack to get the ball from one end of the field to the other in two kick-passes and in minimal time before the opposition have the opportunity to get men behind the ball.

Grassroots dublin tyrone break 1

Tyrone turned over possession

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And one kick pass can take out six Donegal defenders

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Because Seán Cavanagh had held the centre forward position

Grassroots dublin tyrone breaks

And even after being fouled, one more pass and they hit the full forward

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Creating the man-on-man, end-to-end attack

I’m not convinced that having fifteen men behind the ball increases the efficiency with which a side can defend compared to having thirteen behind the ball, but it significantly reduces the chances of scoring on the counter-attack.

Faced with the mighty Dubs, it appeared as though Tyrone went up a notch in terms of conservativism, by getting fourteen and sometimes fifteen behind the ball.

It obliterated this previously key part of their armoury meaning they had only one option to counter-attack – to work it from the back with runners. There’s nothing wrong with this as a method of attack, but as the sole method, it’s quite limiting.

Quite telling was just how many times Dublin made interceptions by coming from behind the ball as Tyrone waited for support players to come behind the man with the ball.

Grassroots dublin tyrone counter 1

This image shows just one Tyrone player in the other half as Dublin attacked

I couldn’t help but feel that they’d have been better off telling Cavanagh and Bradley to sit at centre forward and full forward as they had so frequently done against Donegal.

I wonder was it a systematic decision or counter-intuitive psychology of the players faced with the most lethal and methodical attack in the game?

What I would unequivocally say I felt was an error was the manner in which they allowed Dublin the short kick-out in the latter stages of the game.

There is huge tactical nuance in whether to try to go man-on-man on the opposition’s kick-out or to try to split the extra defender while maintaining a sitting sweeper. It was key in last year’s Dublin club championship.

As a general rule, I’d be quite favourable to the sitting sweeper and split up front option –  but not in all circumstances.

As I say, notwithstanding a goal that came off the back of an unforced ball error, there were only three points between the sides at 62 minutes. The strategy against the Dublin juggernaut couldn’t have been so far off the mark.

But with eight minutes plus injury time to play, and six points down, I simply couldn’t see the logic in it. At this point, you surely have to press high and try to force them long where you can compete for primary possession.

You have maybe twelve minutes to score six points or a goal and three points without reply. Dublin had conceded one goal in almost five championship games at this point, so you’re most likely looking at six points in twelve minutes.

A long shot, but not beyond reason, especially when you consider how many breaks Dublin have lost off their own long kick-outs all year.

But at this crucial juncture, even with a delay in the game for a substitution, with ample time to go man-on-man for the kick-out, Tyrone maintained their sweeper and allowed Dublin uncontested possession on the kick-out.

Grassroots dublin tyrone kick-out

Cluxton has an easy out with 62:46 on the clock

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And Cluxton has it back 25 seconds later as Dublin predictably play keep-ball

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Then an injury delays things further after 48 seconds of keep-ball

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And it’s back with Cluxton again a minute and 47 seconds later

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The ball is still with Dublin in their half two minutes later

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Before they deal the final blow 2 minutes and 20 seconds later

Allowing Dublin the uncontested kick-out to the full back line simply appeared to be suicidal.

Ignoring the fact that Dublin scored off this kick-out, by allowing Dublin the easy possession here they were predictably allowed to dictate the pace of the game, slow it down, force the defenders out of their blanket defence one by one, and pick off the easiest scores of the game.

By the time Dublin had scored this point, off the uncontested kick-out, it was game over with Tyrone trailing by seven with nine minutes total to play, as opposed to trailing by six with twelve minutes total to play, and the opportunity to gain immediate possession and attack off the long kick-out gone.

Tyrone had been as tactically astute as there has been in this year’s championship, but it was difficult not to feel that in continuing to allow Dublin the short kick-out even late in the game, that they sucked the air out of their own last breath.

It’s something Mayo simply won’t allow, early in the game, let alone if they’re trailing late on.

By Stephen O’Meara