THE TAG OF defensive football is one that Ulster football has always found hard to shake.

In the absence of competitive football in Leinster and Munster, silverware is still up for grabs in Ulster every year with Donegal, Monaghan and Tyrone sharing supremacy up north over the last decade.

And yet, the label of defensive football has persisted. Those regular contests among the top teams has done very little to steer viewers away from the stereotype.

But the opening games in the 2019 Ulster SFC have showcased several examples of exciting, attacking football.

It would be premature to suggest that this indicates an overall shift in the province, but the displays so far could certainly serve as an antidote to the infection of defensive football. 

Martin Reilly’s crisp passing 

Cool finish from the penalty by Martin Reilly of @CavanCoBoardGaa pic.twitter.com/h7rbYnJDIG

— The GAA (@officialgaa) May 18, 2019

Cavan forward Martin Reilly was deservedly praised for his contribution to Cavan’s shock win over All-Ireland semi-finalists Monaghan.

His precise kick-passing illuminated the contest and it was his vision that ultimately landed a penalty for Cavan in the fouth minute of the tie.

After gathering the ball out near the sideline, he spotted the run of Conor Madden before delivering a perfect pass into the small square. Drew Wylie’s challenge on Madden resulted in the penalty that Reilly tucked away to give Cavan the early edge.

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Reilly and Madden linked up again towards the end of the first half. After rounding Monaghan’s Karl O’Connell, Reilly charged up the field before slicing the ball into Madden’s hands for a simple tap-over point.

The Killygarry man was previously on the books at Burnley FC and it’s clear that he still has those football skills in his locker.

Long-ball tactics for Down and Armagh goals

Pat Havern’s goal was the outcome of a long-ball tactic.

Source: Philip Magowan/INPHO

Down and Armagh’s thrilling quarter-final produced five goals in all, with both sides employing long-ball tactics to get the ball in the net.

The hosts were the first to profit from that approach in the first half, after Pat Havern connected with a long delivery from Gerard Collins to punch the ball in the net. It was a textbook example of long-ball football in action.

Donal O’Hare’s goal late in the second half was also the product of a similar tactic, with Corey Quinn providing assistance after gathering possession from the break.

Armagh benefited the most from this type of game in extra-time and they struck the decisive blow through a goal from substitute Andrew Murnin.

Rian O’Neill drilled the ball in towards the Down goal where Murnin applied a deft flick to finish the move to the net.

Derry and Tyrone’s direct play

In @UlsterGAA SFC; @TyroneGAALive proved too strong as they overcame @Doiregaa! GAANOW has the best of the action here. pic.twitter.com/A7IUkXbniK

— The GAA (@officialgaa) May 14, 2019

Derry almost produced a huge shock in the Ulster SFC last weekend against All-Ireland finalists Tyrone. 

The newly promoted outfit brought a huge challenge to Mickey Harte’s side and Shane McGuigan’s goal in the 55th minute offered a strong indication that an unlikely win was on the cards.

The score was the outcome of an impressive attacking move.

Enda Lynn was instrumental as he carried possession up through the middle of the field. Tyrone defenders began converging on the centre-forward but Lynn’s nimble footwork allowed him to slip through and race into space.

He offloaded the ball to McGuigan who ran in behind the Tyrone cover to crash his shot into the roof of the net.

Darren McCurry’s goal was crucial in quashing Derry’s momentum and it was similar example of direct, attacking football. 

Frank Burns sent a cross-field pass over to the substitute who drilled the ball low and into the Derry net to quash their momentum, and kill off their chance of springing a surprise.

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