CORK needed to improve on last week’s performance to defeat Tyrone.
Luke Connolly’s goal in the opening attack started the game off on the perfect note. A composed finish but it was the hard run by Ian Maguire that made it.
Defensively then Cork dropped deep with 15 players behind the ball mimicking Tyrone. There was a permanent sweeper in Stephen Cronin with Liam O’Donovan man-marking Mattie Donnelly and Kevin O’Driscoll appeared to be tracking Peter Harte. In addition, Niall Morgan was forced to go short with the majority of his kick-outs.
These tactical alterations ensured Cork were harder to break down than last week but as a unit, it would be more physically demanding which would be a factor in the last quarter.
Tyrone were getting plenty of men back also as expected but they don’t seem to be defending with the same vigor and accuracy as previous years. It was like they were complacent after hammering of Cork last year in Portlaoise or maybe they just don’t have the same confidence since Dublin unlocked their defensive system with ease in the last two years.
Tyrone are athletic and set up with extra defensive cover. This is a good starting point but you still have to be able to read the play and make the right decision.
This is why many teams still are unable to defend well with plenty of players back. Tyrone made many poor decisions and Mickey Harte will be very disappointed with the two goals they conceded.
The times Tyrone did actually go into tackle they were rash giving away silly frees which were duly punished by Cork. It was like they were losing patience at times with Corks tactics on the ball. Cork fouled more but the key it was happening in the Tyrone half which further delayed Tyrone’s attack.
Cork played smart last week, using possession well. This it was taken another step in the right direction with Cork happy to hold possession for long periods in the first half rather than go headless into contact. A similar tactic to what Dublin have used successfully versus Tyrone, this smart use of the ball minimising silly turnovers which seemed to take the edge off Tyrone.
Cork’s free defenders pushed up to attack and made smart runs into space in behind the initial line of defence. These runs were spotted by Sean White and Ruairí Deane in particular who were always engaging on the ball, looking to draw in defenders and create space elsewhere. This led to James Loughrey’s excellent goal in the first half.
While there will be regrets about the period after half time, Cork did start the second half well with Sean White scoring an excellent point, which could have been more with another pass to Luke Connolly.
In next few minutes, too many errors slipped into Cork's play and Tyrone scored 2-2. That’s the difference when you play the top teams. Cork lost control of possession with three poor turnovers and a kick-out lost out wide, which handed momentum to Tyrone. It was a gift for Tyrone as in the opening minutes of the second half they were still struggling to get into any rhythm.
Both teams held the possession through slowing play down and turning back if necessary. It works most of the time but some of the worst turnovers were still committed when the ball was being moved that bit slower. Both teams were guilty as the slower movement of the ball allowed the opposition to read the pass.
The repositioning of Mattie Donnelly to partner Cathal McShane in the full-forward line was a masterstroke as he scored some class points. Two players playing up and the variety in the runs made Stephen Cronin’s sweeper role ineffective.
Liam O’Donovan was doing a great man-marking role in the first half on Donnelly before he switched onto Kevin Flahive. A player of his caliber though is very hard to stop if he is winning possession in space near the opposition goal.
In the qualifier games, Tyrone had reverted to last year's system with only one player up front. Maybe as they were winning games comfortably there was no need to mix things up. On the evidence here, the tactic of Donnelly and McShane will be used in the championship again I’m sure particularly if Tyrone are chasing a game.
Cork admirably did respond well after going behind and stayed in the game through individual efforts from Michael Hurley who scored four excellent points. The other forwards though just lost their composure in attack with a few wild shots while Luke Connolly will know he should have done better with the goal chance in the 53rd minute.
There was only going to be one winner from here as Tyrone got a stranglehold on Cork's kick-out which ensured plenty supply of ball inside and extra space to take advantage of. Overall this loss will be very disappointing as Cork had put themselves in a great position at half time.
Going forward Cork must aim to get a win against Roscommon. This is a different type of challenge in itself as they will be the favorites for the first time in a while.
The chance of qualifying is over but that will be no excuse for the wrong attitude. The two-week gap will allow everyone time to refocus and will provide extra training minutes for Sean Power and Eoghan McSweeney.
Tyrone don’t look like All-Ireland contenders but then they are still into the last four. Facing up to Dublin next in Omagh will tell us exactly how much progress Tyrone have made since the Donegal capitulation.
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