Posted by Christy O'Connor
Friday 20 May 2016
From our GAA Experts to football fans all over Ireland, this week's Win, Lose or Draw predictions are starting to take shape.
In the guerrilla warfare of the Ulster championship, ambushes are a key strategy in how some of those wars are fought. Traps are set. Webs are designed but with so many local skirmishes, and so many derby matches, everybody’s intel is always up to speed. It’s never easy to differentiate between the hunter and the hunted.
At face-value, Sunday’s Derry-Tyrone match has the air and feel of an ambush about it; Tyrone are favourites; they’re being talked up as serious All-Ireland contenders; Derry have never lost to their neighbours in Celtic Park; having already met three times this year, Derry have done all the reconnaissance work required to attack Tyrone’s weakest points.
Tyrone appear to be the hunted but they are natural hunters who always like to stalk their prey. They won’t want to be backed into a corner. They won’t allow themselves to be. If Derry arrive with all guns blazing, Tyrone will just unload their heavy artillery and begin firing first.
Tyrone and Derry have never got on but friction has been brewing between these two teams since January. Late on in the Dr McKenna Cup final, Derry manager Damien Barton found himself in the middle of a mass brawl and was smacked on the chin by a Tyrone player. Tyrone had two men sent off. Derry effectively had the game won until Tyrone rescued a perilous situation before securing the result in extra-time. When the teams met in the league in March, Tyrone swatted Derry away with the back of their hand.
Derry know they have to throw something different at Tyrone this time around. They could play 13 men behind the ball with just Mark Lynch and Caolan O’Boyle up front. That’s how they set up in a recent challenge game against Armagh. Lynch is Derry’s best player. They need him on the ball but Derry also need Lynch close to goal. Ryan Bell and Emmet McCusker were smothered by the Tyrone full-back line when they played up top against them earlier in the year.
If Derry go defensive, Tyrone will have no difficulty in engaging them on those terms because they are a better counter-attacking team, with a much more fluent pace of transition. Tyrone have a brilliant defensive system but they don’t just sit in either. They will push up on the Derry kickout. Colm Cavanagh has been one of the most underrated players in the country because he is so effective as the Tyrone sweeper. Yet Cavanagh plays midfield and only sweeps back when Tyrone lose the ball.
Cavanagh’s brother Sean has maintained his remarkable consistency and excellence but Tyrone no longer rely on him as much as they used to. Cavanagh may still be Tyrone’s only real marquee forward but Mickey Harte has always believed in the power of the collective, and in how far a utilitarian approach can take a team. And this side also has a handful of scoring forwards with the potential to go to the next level; Ronan O’Neill, Darren McCurry, Conor McAliskey and Mark Bradley.
Derry shot some big scores in the league but Tyrone still have more firepower. Along with Dublin, Tyrone had the joint-best defence in the top three Divisions of the league; Derry had the second worst.
In their own back-yard, Derry will hit Tyrone with everything but Tyrone are ready and primed to weather whatever storm Derry are about to whip up. It could take 55 or 60 minutes for Tyrone to absorb the full force but if Tyrone can hit their stride late on, they could win by five or six points.
It’s only ever an ambush if you don’t expect it.
Tyrone to win: 79%
Derry to win: 16%
Wexford to win: 9%
Kildare to win: 89%
Leitrim to win: 22%
Roscommon to win: 75%
That's the way the mood is going for this weekend's games - now it's time to make your predictions for the chance to win two All-Ireland Final tickets.
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