expert view

Analysis: Tyrone improve, Dublin's concern, addition of Murchan and a gem in Howard

The42′s columnist Sean Murphy takes a closer look at last Saturday’s clash in Omagh.

TWO WEEKS, TWO games, two Ulster oppositions, one home game and one on the road resulting in two wins, four points and a place in the All Ireland semi-final.

Mattie Donnelly and Brian Howard Brian Howard in action for Dublin against Tyrone. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The most important aspect of all this for the Dublin commander is they’ve plenty to work on to retain their crown.

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Tyrone’s improvement

11 months ago, Tyrone suffered an embarrassing defeat in the All-Ireland semi-final at the hands of Dublin in Croke Park. Within four minutes on that day, the game was virtually over.

Last Saturday showed Tyrone have made massive strides in this time. Mickey Harte went back to the drawing board following on from that defeat and came back with a modified plan and also new players. Tyrone started Saturday’s game with only seven starters from last year’s defeat.

Mickey Harte has introduced strong physical runners into the team in Michael McKiernan, Hugh Pat McGeary, Frank Burns and Padraig Hampsey, who have all added massively to the Tyrone game.

The difference between now and 2017 has been that these runners have added pace to their attack. When Tyrone were attacking last year, they lacked that zip to break the Dublin line.

While they have been able to maintain their defensive system of getting numbers back, their attack has improved. Tyrone broke the Dublin 45 metre line, 39 times on Saturday last and had 26 shots.

The final piece of the jigsaw still to be solved is scoring efficiency. They had increased this over the past few weeks but it had been against lesser opposition. Tyrone finished the game with 54% shooting efficiency, it is an absolute must if they are to beat Donegal that this figure rises to at least 60%.

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Dublin setup and intensity

I’ve been all championship waiting to analyse this Dublin team and in particular their intensity level. There is a lot of talk about Dublin’s attacking play and how comfortable they are on the ball going forward. None of this would be possible though if they did not have a high intensity level.

The way Dublin normally set up is man to man with a sweeper being transitioned as the ball comes higher up the pitch and towards their own 45 metre line. Cian O’Sullivan is nearly always the man that drops deep to cover in front of the full-back line, if he is caught up it is one of the wing backs who will drop in to cover.


The fundamental to this working for Dublin is the pressure applied throughout the pitch from number five all the way back to the full-back line. I have never seen a team with such a desire to tackle. Last Saturday every Dublin player worked themselves into the ground. This also requires a massive fitness level which they have. One of the best examples of this last Saturday was the work rate of Paul Mannion who contributed four tackles to the Dublin cause and two crucial turnovers in mthe process.

The Dublin tackle rate was immense on Saturday contributing 56 tackles in total – to put this in to contrast, Kerry in their last two games combined have had 52 tackles. Dublin play the game on all fronts on the edge, they push the line on tackles, working their opposition down. This is very simple for Jim Gavin in many ways as if you’re not willing to work, he has players on the sideline who are willing to put the work in.

Dublin match ups

Credit must go to Jim Gavin and his management, every day that goes by they seem to get their key match ups spot on. Eoin Murchan who had a brilliant year at U21 level in 2017, has progressed this to senior level.

He had a fine game last week against Donegal in doing a man marking job on Ryan
McHugh, This was followed up by holding Niall Sludden scoreless on Saturday and in doing so putting a major dent in Tyrone’s attack.

It would look now that Eoin Murchan will continue to take up the smaller player in the opposition’s forward line, again he is an aggressive player who gets contact on and serious pressure.

Alongside Stephen Cluxton, Jonny Cooper is one of the main leaders in this Dublin team. He had one of his finest games for Dublin, showing heart, determination and reading o the game. The Na Fianna man finished the day with three tackles and four turnovers won, two of these turnovers came at a crucial time in the second half where Tyrone were on the rise. He also held McAliskey scoreless from open play.

Following up from last year’s semi-final meeting, John Small went on Peter Harte, The Tyrone man started the game very lively, hitting an early point but the Ballymun man got on top from there and limited Harte to the single point from play.

Tyrone change of approach

One of the big points that stood out to me from this game was when the way that Tyrone tried to push up on Stephen Cluxton’s kickouts for majority of the game and in particular the second half when they fell four to five points behind.

Mickey Harte has since spoken about how they felt they had to go for the game at that stage as they had little choice being down, this in itself is a complete switch in thinking from the Tyrone boss.

This is something that was not even considered in their semi-final last year, it showcases again the improvements that this Tyrone outfit have made in the intervening months.

This tactic did pay dividends late on with Tyrone winning three of the Dublin kickouts in a row in the dying minutes of the game. From what I saw the Tyrone men on the Dublin
kickout were pushing three men into their full forward line, three men into their half forward line, all zonally marking with another four across the middle third.


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Concerns for Dublin

There is many areas of this game that Jim Gavin will know that Dublin will have to work on if Sam Maguire is to stay in the capital. Unusual for this Dublin team, Tyrone finished this game the stronger team and were unlucky to have
missed a Ronan O’Neill free to put the minimum between the sides with two minutes of extra time remaining.

Tyrone kicked six of the last ten scores in this game. The Dublin bench that we hear so much about, also finished the game second best on Saturday also with Tyrone substitutes outscoring them four points to two. This is something that they will definitely work to improve on as ut has been a characteristic this team has been prided on, how they finish games and put away the opposition in the final quarter.

Another area of concern is that their midfielders and half forward are starting to bring Dublin through these games. In my opinion they are not getting as much from their forwards as they have been in previous years. Given the notable absences of Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan, it would seem that they have become very reliant on Brian Fenton, James McCarthy, Jack McCaffery and co adding to the score board. Paul Mannion despite his great work ethic and crucial interceptions has not contributed to the Dublin tally in the last two games and Con O’Callaghan likewise. This is something that will have to be rectified.

2018’s Gem

One the key aspects of this Dublin teams has been the ability to unearth a new star each year. In 2015, Jim Gavin introduced us to what is probably the best midfielder in the country currently in Brian Fenton. In 2016 we got Cormac Costello arrival. The whiz kid Con O’Callaghan landed on the scene in 2017. 2018 is no different, now we have a new Dublin star in Brian Howard.

For me Howard has been one the bright lights of this championship. He is simply a joy to watch, likened to Paul Flynn, his footwork is unbelievable – he reminds me of a dancer at times the way he glides around the pitch and his ability to get himself out of a tackle. He has added immensely to this Dublin with his ability to be an option on kickouts. He has proved that he is also able to take his score when presented and also maintain a colossal work rate on top of this.

This has been the difference with Dublin and the rest of the pack that they have continuously been able to add a different dimension to their side year on year.


For Dublin, they are already qualified from their group in top spot and will end up playing either Galway, Monaghan or Kerry in an All-Ireland semi-final. After coming through the challenge of Tyrone in Omagh, it is difficult to see a harder challenge for this side but like every other team they have areas they need to get right first.

Tyrone on the other hand go into a battle in Ballybofey where the winner takes all. Tyrone have a poor record away to Donegal. The loss of Paddy McBrearty to Donegal is one that could be just too much for Donegal when it comes to this one. If Tyrone continue to do what they did against Dublin by running the ball at pace, pushing up on the Donegal restarts and get their shooting efficiency up then I expect them to shade this one.

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