Target man

Why Tyrone's All-Star forward is set for an even bigger role in 2020

Cathal McShane stands to greatly benefit from the introduction of the advanced mark next season.

IT FEELS LIKE an eternity ago but in Croke Park back in March, Tyrone beat Dublin by three points to knock Jim Gavin’s side out of the hunt to reach the league final.

cathal-mcshane Tyrone's Cathal McShane during the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kerry. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

After enjoying success against Monaghan and Cavan in the previous two rounds, Cathal McShane was once again employed as a target man at full-forward. He wreaked havoc against Dublin’s last line of defence alongside fellow inside attacker Mattie Donnelly and the pair contributed 1-7 of Tyrone’s 1-14 tally.

Tyrone looked to rain early ball on the duo and it reaped dividends. 0-2 of McShane’s 1-4 came from the advanced mark, which was trialled during the National League. 

Two weeks later against Galway, Tyrone sent 15 long deliveries into McShane – many of them diagonal floaters – and 2-4 arrived directly from those dangerous passes.

At various stages either Peter Harte or Donnelly drifted inside to accompany McShane. The direct approach worked and Mickey Harte’s side managed to overcome a tepid start to the league by finishing with four wins on the bounce. 

A big reason for that was Tyrone’s use of the offensive mark. McShane’s emergence as an elite full-forward encouraged them to move away from the defensive style they’d employed in previous years. 

They brought that approach into the championship, even if they reverted to a more counter-attacking system following the defeat to Donegal in Ulster.

“We had two good target men in there, Cathal and Mattie,” says defender Conor Meyler. “Again, people who watch the game closely see that we kicked the ball an awful lot this year.

matthew-donnelly-and-mickey-harte Matthew Donnelly and Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“That was probably our downfall against Donegal. We tried to kick it too much. We were looking too much for the kick, and got caught out because of that. We were attempting to play that open expansive football, but there is a balance (needed).

“If you watch Dublin, you watch Kerry, Mayo, these teams that people talk about open, expansive football, and they all play at stages with everyone in their defence, and that’s just the way it goes.”

After a few seasons operating in various positions, McShane nailed down his place on the edge of the square and went on to land his first All-Star after posting 3-48 in the championship.

Of course, the advanced mark didn’t apply in the summer. For that reason, many inter-county teams didn’t work on exploiting the rule during the league, Tyrone included.

“Not overly,” responds Meyler when asked if they spent much time in training on the advanced mark.

“I suppose it’s like anything. If you have a good player in there, you want to get them on the ball, in any way possible and as quickly as possible. So you end up kicking.

“But it probably wasn’t something that we specifically worked on, because we knew it wasn’t going to be in for the championship. Obviously it’s going to be in this year, so things might be different then.”

Things will certainly be different in 2020. Tyrone are one of the teams who stand to benefit most from the rule with the Owen Roes star in their attack. 

cathal-mcshane-before-the-game Tyrone's Cathal McShane before the Super 8s game against Dublin. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

McShane is tall, physically imposing, strong in the air and has extremely good movement – making him the perfect player to target with one of Gaelic football’s new rules.

Tyrone also possess plenty of good kick-passers in the middle third. McShane is so good that the delivery doesn’t have to be planted on his chest. He’s well capable of using his strength to win those 40/60 passes inside that initially favour the defender.

“You have to have plan A, plan B, C and D nearly too because if that’s not working, what else do you do?” says Meyler. 

“It’s not a case that we’re going to focus on one aspect. We’ll hopefully have three or four ways to play, depending on who you’re playing against as well.”

gaelic-players-association-launch-student-report-2019 Conor Meyler was speaking at the GPA's launch of their 2019 Student Report. Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

Unfortunately for the Red Hand, McShane’s partner in crime Donnelly has been ruled out for six months as he is due to undergo surgery to repair a detached hamstring tendon. 

It means there will be more of a scoring burden on McShane for next year’s league campaign and he’s likely to be heavily targeted by opposition defences. It remains to be seen how quickly Donnelly will get up to speed once he returns from the long-term injury. 

Tyrone’s options up front could be boosted by the potential returns of Mark Bradley, Lee Brennan and Ronan O’Neill to the squad, while Darragh Canavan may step-up from the U20s after shining for Errigal Ciaran in their run to the county final.

With an All-Star in the bag from this season, the introduction of the advanced mark might see McShane take another significant leap forward in 2020.

If Tyrone can properly take advantage of the new rule, it could help close the gap on champions Dublin.

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