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Exclusive Tired Tyrone need a new man at the helm - it's time for a Harte break

Red Hand need new voice but Farney's sins are shocking

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Michael Langan of Donegal tussles with Conor Meyler of Tyrone. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Michael Langan of Donegal tussles with Conor Meyler of Tyrone. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Michael Langan of Donegal tussles with Conor Meyler of Tyrone. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Years ago, a Tyrone footballer explained to me why Mickey Harte had managed the county to win three All-Ireland senior titles in six seasons.

His greatest attribute - according to my source - was his ability to study the opposition, identify their strengths and key players and come up with a plan to counteract them.

Football has moved on, but Harte's modus operandi hasn't - which explains why Tyrone haven't won a national title for 12 years.

Last Sunday in Ballybofey we saw a classic example of the way Mickey thinks about football.

He sacrificed his play-maker Mattie Donnelly so he could man-mark Michael Murphy, while Conor Meyler was pulled back to shadow Ryan McHugh. Both Tyrone players did their job very effectively.

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Donegal’s keeper Shaun Patton. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Donegal’s keeper Shaun Patton. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Donegal’s keeper Shaun Patton. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

But it was a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Tyrone came close but Donegal were marginally the better side.

A handful of statistics underline why they were better. Tyrone won only five out of 14 long kick-outs. Their defence conceded 0-5 from free kicks. Two of the kicks were moved forward for dissent. Meanwhile, Donegal only conceded 0-2 from placed balls.

The visitors kicked 12 wides and their eight second-half missed chances were particularly ruinous. Once again, they failed to cope with Shaun Patton's long kick-outs, which directly led to 1-6 for Donegal.

But as I alluded to earlier, Tyrone's biggest handicap was that they did not play to their strengths. They have become straitjacketed into playing a negative, conservative style of football.

As long as Harte is at the helm this won't change. Tyrone need a new manager with a different perspective.

But Tyrone's tactical sins were venial compared to the mortal one committed by Monaghan 24 hours earlier. They exited the championship when Cavan goalkeeper Raymond Galligan nailed a free deep in stoppage time at the end of extra time.

I'm at a loss to find a better example of a case where caveman-like tactics cost a team a game. Leading by seven points at the break, but about to play into a serious wind, Monaghan opted to sit back and defend their advantage.

They kept possession for possession's sake as evident by one shocking stat. Goalkeeper Rory Beggan had more kicks in general play in the second half than any of his forwards.

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Mattie Donnelly of Tyrone marked Michael Murphy closely. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Mattie Donnelly of Tyrone marked Michael Murphy closely. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Mattie Donnelly of Tyrone marked Michael Murphy closely. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

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The first time a Monaghan forward had a kick at the Cavan goal in the second half was four minutes from the end.

And from the 31st minute of the first-half to the end of the action, and remember the game went to extra time, only one Monaghan forward, Andrew Woods, scored a point from play.

It was purely kamikaze stuff, and they paid the ultimate price. I can't help but laugh when I hear commentators describe these tactics as innovative and at the cutting edge.

The single most important message from last weekend's action is that changing weather and ground conditions means teams must be flexible when it comes to tactics.

The 2020 winter championship is no place for 'fancy Dan' footballers. Games will be attritional and errors are inevitable. Players cannot drop their heads. Instead, they will have to chase even the most hopeless-looking of lost causes.

The best laid pre-match tactics and game plan may have to be adjusted or even abandoned because of weather conditions.

So far there is a noticeable difference between the intensity levels of games in the football championship compared to the hurling series.

I watched most of the nine football games played last weekend and whereas there were numerous handling errors, lots of turnovers, bad misses, and basic mistakes, they were all full-blooded affairs where the average winning margin was just over two points.

Apart from the Kilkenny v Dublin tie, the hurling games lacked the passion, intensity, and competitiveness of their football counterparts.

The Cork v Waterford, Wexford v Galway and Limerick v Tipperary were all one-sided.

This is even more puzzling because the Liam MacCarthy Cup is seeded with only the ten top teams taking part, whereas the 31 counties in the football series are lumped together in the four provincial championships.

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Tyrone won’t change with Mickey Harte. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Tyrone won’t change with Mickey Harte. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Tyrone won’t change with Mickey Harte. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

So why the difference? I have two theories. Firstly, there is no back-door in football, so everything is on the line, whereas the hurling teams get a second chance. And there's another second chance coming up as the losers of the Leinster and Munster Hurling finals get into the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Secondly, all the hurling games have been played in the major stadia: Croke Park, Semple Stadium and Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which have excellent surfaces, but their vastness accentuates the lack of atmosphere due to the absence of a crowd.

In contrast, most of the football games have been played in the smaller stadia.

There, the pitches are mostly tighter, and the surface is heavy and playing in front of nobody doesn't seem quite as eerie. But the take-home message of the 2020 championship is don't blink or you might miss your county's exit.

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