New era of attack in Tyrone and how the latest gifted forward to emerge scored 0-10 off scraps

September 9, 2021 0 By HearthstoneYarns

IT WAS PUZZLING last season when arguably the best player in the Tyrone club championship didn’t receive a call-up to the county panel under Mickey Harte last October. 

Paul Donaghy led Dungannon Thomas Clarkes to Tyrone SFC glory and finished the campaign as the championship’s top-scorer with 31 points in four games. 

Harte’s failure to call-up Donaghy in what turned out to be his final season summed up the conservatism of his latter years in charge of the Red Hand. 

One of the first moves of new joint-bosses Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan was to add Donaghy to the set-up and he impressed on his debut with a 10-point haul on Saturday. 

Donaghy played in the full-forward line alongside Conor McKenna and Richie Donnelly, and after Michael O’Neill’s red card in a two-man attack with Mark Bradley.

In the not too distant past, the general consensus was that Tyrone didn’t have the forwards to win an All-Ireland. Now in recent seasons, Cathal McShane, McKenna, Darragh Canavan and Donaghy have emerged as genuine scoring threats up front. 

Donaghy’s addition this season comes with the added benefit that he’s a reliable free-taker. Against Donegal, he nailed all five of his scoreable frees. The only one he missed was a pot shot from the sideline.

He added a 45 and four from play which were all taken from almost the same position. Tyrone’s top scorer on the day survived on very limited rations throughout the 70 minutes.

He’s comfortable shooting off either foot in open play and tends to drift around the D and offer an option to team-mates on the loop. 

Tyrone’s new approach

It’s clear that Tyrone have taken a different approach under the new management. 

From the early stages it became obvious how Tyrone’s style has changed significantly since the Mickey Harte era. They tended to drop deep after losing possession and wouldn’t engage the ball carrier until around the halfway line. 

Below, instead of withdrawing en masse, they’ve pressed up on Donegal by sending seven players inside the opposition 21 to try win the ball back high up the pitch.

It’s a system that will take time to implement, particularly for a group of players more accustomed to a defensive style of play. On a few occasions, a simple kick pass over the top took out a host of Tyrone players and left them vulnerable to a counter-attack.

However, when Tyrone did turn the ball over up high, they found themselves in an excellent scoring position. O’Neill’s dismissal early in the second-half meant Tyrone couldn’t press as high, but it’s worth keeping an eye on in the weeks ahead. 

By leaving at least two players in the full-forward line and a couple at half-forward, Tyrone gave themselves an outlet to launch quick counter-attacks and get quality, early ball into their danger men. 

Interestingly, the vast majority of Niall Morgan’s kick-outs went long and the midfielders broke towards either flank.

It mean that if they came up with possession, they had a platform at midfield to launch attacks rather than working it up the field from the last line of defence.

In 25th minute, Niall Morgan sent a kick-out long towards Brian Kennedy, who tapped it down for his midfield partner Frank Burns. He looked up and immediately delivered a quality long ball inside to Donaghy….

…that he broke to McKenna, with fellow inside forward Richie Donnelly also lurking nearby.

The early delivery meant Donegal didn’t have time to filter bodies back, leaving Tyrone with a three-on-three, which is a dream scenario for any full-forward line.

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This was a goal opportunity if they worked the ball through the hands, but the former AFL man had a tame shot at the posts that dropped short.

Still, in two kicks Tyrone travelled the length of field inside 10 seconds. That’s a promising development. 

Donaghy’s impact 

It’s a statistical quirk that Donaghy kicked more points (10) than he had possessions (9)  during the game. Tyrone generally worked the ball to midfield and kicked it into their danger men – with varying degrees of success.

Plenty of ball went astray with at least four deliveries intercepted by Donegal defenders inside the first 20 minutes. Indeed when Declan Bonner dropped Hugh McFadden back to sweep in front of his full-back line for a spell in the first period, Donegal had great joy in turning the ball over. 

Donaghy lived on scraps for the majority of the game. He had four possessions in the first-half and five in the second. He didn’t touch the ball from play until the 16th minute and likewise in the second-half didn’t get going until he was released to the half-forward line. 

But when he got the ball in his hands, his shooting was devastating. 

In the 16th minute his first contribution from play arrived after Mattie Donnelly turned inside and passed into his path. Donaghy’s first thought was to engineer enough space to shoot and he clipped it over despite the close attentions of his marker. 

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After 27 minutes, the full-forward line combined when McKenna sent in a lob to Richie Donnelly, who palmed it down for Donaghy. He jinked inside and fed the run of Kieran McGeary for a score. 

It took half an hour for Donaghy to get a kick pass into space in front of him. Conor Meyler’s sideline left him one-on-one with McFadden. The Dungannon man cut past McFadden and had a pop at the posts off his left foot that went narrowly wide. 

In the 38th minute, Donaghy was hanging around the D when McGeary’s pass into Richie Donnelly spilled to the deck. McGeary gathered it and slipped it to Donaghy. Now oozing with confidence, he showed good spatial awareness to turn away from two defenders and drill it over off his left.

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With Tyrone reduced to 14 men, Donaghy found possession harder to come by until the final 10 minutes. McKenna dropped deeper, Mark Bradley replaced Richie Donnelly and played as the first runner in front of Donaghy, who was double-marked. 

On a couple of occasions his team-mates might have slipped him possession but instead decided to take the shot on themselves, such as this wide by Meyler in the 59th minute. 

In the 65th minute, Donaghy was alive to a break as McGeary and Peter Harte did well to beat Michael Murphy to Shaun Patton’s restart. Having been starved of possession for most of the half, like any good forward his instinct told him to get the shot away himself and it flew between the posts.  

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Donaghy’s best score of the game arrived in the 66th minute. It was a move that stemmed from goalkeeper Niall Morgan incredibly pushing up to the half-forward line to prevent Patton from picking out the spare Donegal man.

Donaghy got himself on the ball and passed it on, but crucially kept moving.

Donegal were happy to allow him venture outside what they perceived as the scoring zone. Mattie Donnelly kicked it out to Donaghy, who’d drifted out well past the 45 at this stage.

Donegal invited him to shoot and he didn’t need a second invitation, soloing on the left before slotting over a delightful outside the boot strike off his right. 

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It was a classic Donaghy score and put the icing on the cake of a wonderful debut. Minutes later he stroked over his 10th point from a free which was his sixth placed ball of the game. 

If Tyrone can improve the quality of ball that goes into the full-forward line and get Cathal McShane back to full fitness, they’ve got an exciting forward division on their hands.

They’ll be looking for improved performances from veterans Harte, Mattie Donnelly and McKenna, but so far they look to be on the right track under the new management.

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