GAA Review – July 17th

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Tyrone’s big stars come up trumps at the death

There are times when a county needs their big name players to produce when it really matters. Tyrone illustrated this point perfectly in the last five minutes of an Ulster SFC final which will not be remembered by the purists with any great fondness. Mickey Harte’s charges were under the gun at half-time, a four point deficit against a Donegal side where Ryan McHugh was dominating the game with some superb line running. Tyrone’s tempo left a lot to be desired and was not helped by the two black cards issued during the first thirty-five minutes, more case study material of how ineffective the black card actually is and its implementation. Both Tyrone players had valid arguments on the black card but that is for another day.

I greatly admire Tyrone, their ability to change tactics during the game and nullify opposition threats. Their defensive setup to stem the influence of Ryan McHugh in that second period was a key factor in how Tyrone won this final. Donegal’s key players upfront suddenly had little quality ball to work from, albeit their slow deliberate hand passing tactics in the middle of the park particularly in the closing quarter was excruciating to watch so much so more that Paddy McBrearty was hauled off with ten minutes to go. No fault of the player but the manner in which Donegal tried to close the contest out.

Tyrone were the team trying to win this contest in the final quarter and Sean Cavanagh came to the fore. His three point haul in that second half was superb; his work rate from midfield, his willingness to make continuous lung bursting runs deep into Donegal territory were sensational. Peter Harte also came to the party. What a sensational score to give Tyrone the lead in the closing minutes of injury time. The strike from well out the pitch was a fitting way of winning a provincial title.

Donegal had little time to respond, they could not create any momentum. Their tactic of trying to close out the game in the final quarter back fired horribly. Michael Murphy did have a chance prior to Peter Harte’s go ahead score but his free tailed wide and to be honest it was the only way that Donegal were going to score in the late closing stages of the contest. I really wish both sides could have being a little more adventurous yesterday; the ultra defensive setups was incredibly underwhelming and you had to feel sorry for any supporters who stumped up the cash through the turnstiles to watch this showpiece event.

Tyrone’s victory has proved that they are a legitimate contender for Sam Maguire. This win demonstrated Tyrone’s flexibility to change game plan, their conditioning and fitness to close out the contest was supreme and their defensive setup in the second half will pose the main title challengers plenty to mull over in the coming weeks.

Donegal enter the qualifiers with a date of destiny against Cork who let us be frank have not set the house on fire in two weeks. Michael Murphy struck an anonymous figure for long periods yesterday; his best position is full-forward but given the style of play adopted by Donegal, he is pushed further and further out the pitch. Superb players are in this Donegal side but they were being inhibited from expressing themselves by management whose fear of losing is self-evident. 

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Dublin stroll to Leinster crown

Dublin are in no win territory at the moment in Leinster. Given the lack of opposition on offer, they are damned if they beat teams by a cricket score, damned if they only beat teams pulling up. Yesterday was a classic example. Westmeath tried hard but Dublin blew the Lakeside County away in the second half. The fifteen point victory was merited as Westmeath lack both the nous, running lines and defensive organization to seriously cause an upset.

Dean Rock display from placed balls will be a bonus for Jim Gavin. All lines were in control throughout. The late two goals put a gloss on the scoreline but question marks again will be raised on Diarmuid Connolly’s temperment after an unsavory incident in the opening period, clearly hauling a Westmeath player to the ground after an initial provocation. The referee did not banish the black card but he may not be as lucky the next time. Connolly is a superb player, his kick passing and scoring ability in open play is a joy to watch but his tendency to react to provocation is a weakness.

Apart from John Heslin, there was zero threat inside for Westmeath as the majority of their players spent the afternoon trying to track Dublin runners. Their qualifier tie fixture with Mayo could prove difficult considering Mayo’s momentum from two wins in as many weeks. Westmeath need to add more threat inside to cause an upset in two weeks. The defensive tried hard but were exposed at times with Dublin running lines.

Given the issues with teams trying to adopt the sweeper system, Cian O’Sullivan has mastered the role. His performance again yesterday oozed class and his decision making to sniff out any remotely threatening Westmeath attacks should be played to teams young and old on how to game read a GAA match. His marshaling ability and game management is pivotal to Dublin given the absence of O’Carroll and McCaffrey. O’Sullivan will be tested more in the coming weeks but he is a  contender of player of the season so far.

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Tribesmen put the Rossies to the sword

For fluid football, Castlebar on Sunday was the place to be. Galway’s two goal salvo in the opening period was key in an emphatic replay victory. Roscommon’s defensive system was fragile to start off with but they were ripped apart by Galway in the opening period. Massive space opened up for Danny Cummins who reveled in the surroundings with two superb strikes. Shane Walsh at half-forward showed pace and power to open space for Galway’s marauding half-back line to launch deep runs which were never tracked by their Roscommon opponents. Sice and Silke were immense. Sice’s goal was as emphatic as you will see all year.

Roscommon have massive issues ahead of their weekend tussle with a rejuvenated Clare outfit. Their inability to deal with Galway pushing up to deny easy ball winning opportunities from kick-outs was damning. When they decided to launch ball into the midfield, Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn ruled the roost. The Roscommon forward line lacked work rate throughout so much so that four of their forwards were hauled off before the final quarter. Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell have problems in the full back line, no protection in front of the line caused several goal scoring chances. Three goals conceded was kind. Clare will fancy a cut off the vanquished Connacht runners-up.

Galway can look forward to a date in Croke Park against either Derry / Tipperary. It is a massive opportunity to stake a claim in the last four of the competition. Their work rate (maligned in past seasons) is no more. Their football skills never questioned but it is their ability to defend with depth but break with pace and power that has caught the eye. Paul Conroy and Shane Walsh stock will rise next month. Interesting times lie ahead for Kevin Walsh’s charges.