TYRONE WERE HANGING on by the end on Saturday night in Croke Park but they put in one hell of a fight.
Dublin may have gone 31 games unbeaten but they really had to grind out this result.
Up to the 47th minute sending off of Mark Bradley, Tyrone had out-shot Dublin by two shots to one and were five points ahead.
Dublin are not unaccustomed to a slog in the league. They came out 0-9 to 0-7 winners in Castlebar last season and saw of the defensive efforts of Derry by 0-8 to 0-4 in 2015.
On that occasion two years ago, Derry allowed Dublin possession, there was very little pressure put on the ball carrier and as long as they could keep Dublin outside the scoring zone, they were happy.
Tyrone were very different on Saturday night. Their pressure and tackling was ferocious at times.
Dublin were turned over in the tackle 13 times in that first half and while the conditions were poor, that’s a number Jim Gavin won’t be happy with.
The first thing to note about Tyrone’s set-up is that they did for the most part push up on Cluxton’s kickouts.
Here they are set up, six v six, inside the Dublin ’45. When you set your stall out to play with at least one free man at the back this is brave.
Once possession was lost they weren’t too interested in applying pressure, instead they concentrated on just filtering back.
The play from this move gets switched to the far wing but Colm Cavanagh’s positioning means there is very little on.
Dublin end up going back inside their own half to start the move again. As they break forward again with James McCarthy in possession, Colm Cavanagh closes the space on the dangerous Brian Fenton.
It’s these types of decisions that separate the good sweepers from the average ones. It’s a very subtle movement forward to close space.
But you see time and again inexperienced sweepers step back here and be more concerned with the goal or the man in the square.
Cavanagh knows Fenton is the danger here and as a result when he receives the ball, Colm is breathing down his neck.
As the ball is spread wide Tyrone have a perfect arc of players right on the edge of the scoring zone.
Dublin are reluctant to shoot from that far out unless it’s absolutely necessary and they try to play the ball inside but end up getting turned over.
Later in the half Tyrone get turned over from their own kickout.
This is the sort of ball any team will love. Winning possession like this in open play on the opponents ’45.
The pass is a little sloppy from O’Gara to MacAuley but even when he comes up with the ball there are three Tyrone men surrounding him.
The ball actually spills out of that tackle and O’Gara picks it up. It takes mere seconds for Tyrone to completely surround him and force the turnover.
It happened at least 13 times in that first half alone that Tyrone turned over Dublin. It illustrates their unbelievable work-rate but also their discipline at this stage. Dean Rock took just two shots at goals from frees in that first half.
Any defensive system comes at some sort of cost. In Tyrone’s case, as well as they won possession from Dublin hands, they struggled to consistently get close to the Dublin goal.
Above is the Tyrone shot map. Bar the goal and a few second half scrambles, most of Tyrone’s attacks ended with a player shooting right on the scoring arc.
This is the sacrifice you make when defending and Tyrone did very well in trying to balance both ends of the pitch, but did struggle in creating better opportunities.
By way of contrast when Dublin attack, they tend to always have a player in the square.
This allows a couple of things to happen. Firstly Eoghan O’Gara’s positioning here means that there is a Tyrone player marking him that deep and therefore not able to fill the space in the D.
Secondly Dublin can run or as they did in this case, play the ball into that space.
The attempted lay-off doesn’t quite go to hand here, but this is a wet February night.
Come the summer, it doesn’t take too many of these opportunities to stick before Dublin start scoring goals.
These are the sort of trade-offs that managers make with their systems. Dublin still play defensive football and have spare men back.
But they don’t tend to sacrifice that man inside. This is one of the main reasons Dublin take the highest percentage of their shots from inside 35 metres, than any other team in the country.
The sending off forced Tyrone to go into their shell a little more than they probably wanted to.
In the second half they coughed up five scoreable frees.
To a man as prolific as Dean Rock in a low scoring game, it’s asking for trouble.
Dublin kept possession better in the second half and with the slight dip in Tyrone defensive discipline, it was enough to let Dublin back into the game.
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