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Player Watch: How Tyrone turned McShane into full-forward wrecking ball

Cathal McShane has scored 1-11 in his last four games but his contribution runs far deeper than that.

WHEN MICKEY HARTE sits down to reflect on Tyrone’s league campaign, he’ll have plenty of notes to fit into his ‘positives’ column. 

Mickey Harte before the game Tyrone boss Mickey Harte. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Their team holiday meant a later return to pre-season training and that was certainly a factor in them taking just a point from their opening three games.

But Tyrone build up a head of stream and a run of four successive wins left them just a point short of a place in the league final.

There were plenty of other plusses, not least the performances of debutants Ben McDonnell, Michael Cassidy and Brian Kennedy, in addition to Kyle Coney’s return to the panel. 

Then you factor in how Harte now has two distinctive game-plans to attack the championship. Tyrone’s usual deep-lying, counter-attacking game has been tweaked and improved with the presence of Cathal McShane as an inside forward.

McShane has replaced Mark Bradley, who has opted out in 2019 due to his studies in Liverpool, as the target man in their attack. 

When Tyrone took down Dublin in Croke Park, they did so with a ‘kick-first’ philosophy where McShane and Mattie Donnelly teamed up in a two-man full-forward line. They matched-up man-on-man against the Dubs all over the field and kicked the ball 55 times during the game – a marked move away from the Tyrone system in recent seasons.

Cathal McShane and John Daly Cathal McShane gets a pass away against Galway. Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

The common denominator in both systems is McShane’s deployment as their most advanced attacker. 

The Owen Roes clubman has typically been employed at midfield or half-forward in recent seasons. He saved their season with a 76th-minute equaliser against Meath in the qualifers last summer, sending the game to extra-time where the Red Hands eventually pulled through. 

And after trialling Peter Harte in the full-forward line this spring, Harte eventually settled with McShane on the edge of the square. Tyrone haven’t looked back. 

In his last four games, McShane has posted 1-11 but his contributions run far deeper than the scoreboard suggests.

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Dublin’s style of play meant Tyrone could target their full-forward line with direct, aerial ball that deeply troubled Jim Gavin’s full-back line. But the presence of a Galway sweeper meant Harte’s side had to be a more nuanced in when they targetted McShane, their lone inside man on Sunday.

The statistics paint a picture of McShane’s dominance in the number 14 role.

Tyrone targeted him with 15 long deliveries in Omagh and he came up with the ball on nine occasions. 

From those nine receptions, he won two frees that he pointed himself and claimed an advanced mark that he also slotted over. 

Then there was his magnificent left-footed strike between the posts after collecting a bounced pass in the closing stages.

In addition, McShane was hauled down for the penalty that Peter Harte rolled into the bottom corner and flicked a Darren McCurry pass into the path of Conall McCann for a finish into an empty net.

mcshane target map

So Tyrone scored 2-4 directly from the 15 balls they kicked into McShane on Sunday.

Galway usually had a spare defender cutting out the early ball inside, but that didn’t dissuade Tyrone from going over the top on multiple occasions.

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Anytime they spotted McShane in a one-on-one situation, it was pumped into him. The kick-passes inside were generally floating, diagonal balls, which are a nightmare to defend against. 

He tends to catch the ball on the half-turn, with his shoulders pointing towards the posts when he lands. McShane ran at the Galway defence four times with the ball in his hands, drawing two frees and a penalty. 

His size and power means that if he returns to the deck with possession, he’s either going to be fouled, get a shot away or will feed a team-mate in a scoring position.

He held his runs across the 21m line and won a number of balls out in front. That kept his marker Sean Andy O’Ceallaigh honest, but he generally looked for the high, angled pass in behind the full-back.

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There wasn’t one particular Tyrone player in the Brian McGuigan role that looked to feed McShane – they spread it around the team. 

Padraig Hampsey kicked four balls into McShane with a 50% success rate. Richard Donnelly (0%) and Kyle Coney (50%) sent the ball in twice apiece and the rest of the kick-passes inside were shared around.

Hugh Pat McGeary, Harte, Conor Meyler, Niall Sludden and McCurry all gave ball inside at various stages.

Tyrone were able to deliver it inside from further out in the second-half with the wind at their backs and they twice pumped it into McShane from the attacking 65.

Tyrone’s second green flag arrived from such a delivery. Defenders these days usually mark from the front and the Ulster side exploit that here. Cassidy lands it from the 65 into McShane’s paw on the edge of the area.

The third goal that the Ulster champions scored in the 75th minute was a thing of beauty that will have delighted forwards coach Stephen O’Neill.

McCurry looks up and sees McShane isolated in the space between O’Ceallaigh and goalkeeper Ruairi Lavelle. He sends a textbook pass from the outside of the boot that leaves the full-back in no man’s land.

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It forces Lavelle to compete in the air with McShane on the edge of his area. There’s only one winner in this scenario.

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McShane manages to spot the run of McCann in front of him and gets enough of a touch to leave the Tyrone sub with the easiest goal he’ll ever score.

Tyrone have discovered through this league campaign that the direct route with diagonal ball into McShane can pay rich dividends against even the meanest of defences.

The advanced mark won’t be around for the summer but regardless, McShane is a force to be reckoned with on the edge of the square.

Tyrone now have a reliable offensive weapon that can hurt All-Ireland champions Dublin on their weakest line of the field. 

“It gives us another option as well as the running game,” said Harte of his full-forward.

“We do have an option to kick the ball in, and it tends to be quite effective.”

Roll on the summer.

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Kevin O'Brien

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