Much to ponder for Gavin as Tyrone expose Dublin flaws
Published 29/04/2013 | 05:00
This has been one of the best National Football Leagues for many a year, with a host of exciting and high-quality games that have made a mockery of those team managers who claim they never take the league seriously.
So it was fitting that Dublin and Tyrone did justice to the competition in a manner that few could have imagined. This was a fabulous, high-octane game which will scarcely be equalled in the forthcoming championship for drama and the sort of exuberant football that many thought was a thing of the past.
Dublin won by the skin of their teeth but Tyrone surely earned a draw until some of their veterans showed signs of fatigue in the closing 10 minutes – and that was enough to allow substitute Dean Rock to come good with two clever points in the dying moments, before Jack McCaffrey kicked the winner.
Dublin will be glad of a National League title after 20 years but their back-room team will have a lot to think about in the coming weeks after this display.
For long periods, Tyrone made life difficult for Dublin, mainly because they were far too cute in their organisation of the game and their ability to snatch scores from limited rations.
Many flaws were shown up by this Dublin performance and maybe that is the biggest benefit Jim Gavin and his colleagues will get, because at least now they are under no illusions.
At this point of 2013, all that glitters in the Dublin football set-up certainly is not gold.
Mistakes were made all over the place. Time and again Dublin passes went straight to the opposition and when Tyrone went back to their roots in the second half with a mass defence, some Dublin forwards seemed lost for ideas as how to cope.
The notable exception was young Paul Mannion, whose natural ability shone like a beacon.
In a Dublin attack in the 42nd minute of the game when scores were level at 0-13, I counted 25 players in the Tyrone half of the field as Dublin forwards ran into one blind alley after another seeking a clear shot.
What have those Dublin lads been looking at for the past decade, I wonder, if they were surprised at what was happening?
In the first 23 minutes of the second half, despite much possession, Dublin managed two scores: a point and free from Mannion.
At that stage, the Dublin midfield was shoved aside, often literally, by Tyrone, and soon after that both midfielders had been replaced; three forwards were also in the dugout before the finish, which meant five players from midfield up had gone.
Tyrone largely controlled the second half but with Stephen O'Neill not playing, they were partially leaderless – had he been on the field there would have been no doubt about the result. Tyrone had exceptional performances from younger lads like Cathal McCarron, who obliterated Bernard Brogan, and Conor McAliskey, who had replaced O'Neill at the start.
And then there was the incredible performance of goalkeeper Niall Morgan, who kicked four magnificent long-range frees – some from over 45 metres – as well as a '45'.
So Mickey Harte has a lot to be pleased with as he heads to Ballybofey in a few weeks, yet he must worry a bit about the ability of some older players to stick the pace over 70-odd minutes on a summer's day.
This game will lead to some re-assessment in the Dublin camp but there is no need for panic. They will not meet as clever a team as Tyrone in this year's Leinster championship but they still have things to address – most notably a regular midfield pairing and a backline that seems to assume they are actually better than they are at times.