Eugene McGee: Tyrone fans have much to worry about
Published 12/04/2010 | 05:00
Most people play little or no attention to these infamous 'quotes' provided by famous GAA players in response to journalists and I would be of the same view from the other side of the fence.
But occasionally we do get a nugget of information, often passed on inadvertently by the player, which actually makes sense. Last week, Tyrone's Seán Cavanagh mentioned that prior to the recent Tyrone-Kerry league game in Omagh, the Tyrone camp would set out a target to regain the All-Ireland title. They reckoned they would try to win eight games to win out -- two in the league, three in the Ulster championship and three more to win the Sam Maguire Cup. Their aim, presumably, was to win all eight games to boost morale as the season went on. But then along came Dublin!
Things started great for Tyrone's grand plan when they stole a last-second win over Kerry with a goal in a melee from Colm Cavanagh and we wondered if this was the start of 'the run' to the final on September 19.
Based on recent form, it was reasonable to expect that Tyrone would continue their run with victory No 2. But things are not what they used to be for this Tyrone team and the sense of unity and purpose that carried them through black days in the past 10 years was missing in Omagh yesterday. The players looked tired, both physically and mentally. The old Tyrone bite was absent and, from a technical point of view, the famous teamwork, backs in attack and forwards back defending -- Tyrone's hallmark for so long -- was a pale shadow against Dublin.
Were it not for the presence yesterday of the mighty Seán Cavanagh, Tyrone's defeat would have bordered on humiliation -- a place Mickey Harte certainly never wants to see again. Yes, there are excuses because excuse-making is in every GAA follower's DNA and the fans will point to the absence of Brian Dooher, Owen Mulligan and Stephen O'Neill. But there will be no excuses from Harte and the management team because they deal in football reality, and are not dreamers. Tyrone have huge problems if they want to regain the Sam Maguire Cup this year; let's just say that.
But let us also give great credit to the Dublin team who went into a ground that was never their favourite visiting place and duly destroyed a team with a lot of iconic figures on their team sheet. Dublin's attitude, usually the measuring stick by which we assess their performances against leading counties, was outstanding in this game. For a start, they had no inhibitions when facing Tyrone. Instead, it was they who took the initiative in the physical stakes and after several Tyrone greats had been upended on their backs, it became clear that these Dublin players at least had the required guts to face up to a tough job.
The Dublin players' superiority was obvious in every area but particularly with the Dublin attack, or should we say Bernard Brogan. Who would ever have believed that a top target-man, which Brogan now is in this Dublin set-up, would have destroyed one of the defensive linchpins of Tyrone football for years, Conor Gormley?
Brogan had scored five points from play after just 15 minutes and really the home team never came to grips with that for the rest of the game. By half-time, Dublin had 2-10 on the board, almost all from play, and struck no wide in that first half.
Okay, we accept that this is the Dublin footballers and this sort of thing may not happen very often, if ever again, this year. But at this time of year as every county hones in on the championship, how a team and individual players perform against the top counties can be very important. Yesterday the Dublin players got the maximum psychological return that was possible when playing Tyrone in Omagh.
Tyrone followers are a volatile lot as even Mickey Harte realised a few years ago and it was significant that after Bernard Brogan scored his fifth point from play, there was a discernible murmur of discontent among the large home following.
As expected, Tyrone did respond after half-time, largely through the arrival of midfielder Kevin Hughes and the restoring of Seán Cavanagh from the full-forward line to much further out the field.
But in a sure sign that some Tyrone engines need recharging, that initial flurry soon ended. In the final quarter of the game in which Tyrone were fighting for their Division 1 status, it was Dublin who outscored them by four points to two and those two were scored by Hughes and Cavanagh. Obviously, Kyle Coney is a marvellous football talent, as his three first-half points showed, but he must yet prove himself on the battlefields of Ulster and Croke Park, though all neutrals will follow his career with great interest.
Nothing is ever easy about the Dublin football team, as every manager since Pat O'Neill in 1995 will verify. Therefore Pat Gilroy will not be basking in the current warm sunshine for long. He still faces the fundamental problem of deciding how many of last year's leading players will be retained for this year's championship.
This is a very hard task and even after seven league games in which over 30 different players have been tried out, it will still be an element of a gamble. Dedicated Dublin fans have their own strong views and the majority seem to want as many new faces with ability as possible.
Yesterday's tough game against such an experienced team will surely sway the opinion of the selectors in some cases and with the Leinster championship looking fairly bedraggled, there may still be time for more experimenting on Dublin's part while managing to retain the provincial title.