THE National League final in Croke Park usually means the start of the Gaelic Football season, even though the league games will have been going on since February. The form book will have been studied and, by and large, teams that reach the final stages of the league will be expected to go well in the championship.
On Sunday last we saw Tyrone and Dublin play a final that, to be honest, for me, was a hot and cold display from two of the top teams in the country. While the game was quite entertaining, it was full of basic mistakes from both sides. Forgive me for having a go here, but I thought the referee had a poor enough and an inconsistent game. In fact one could nearly say he gave quite a lot of what looked to me as home town decisions. Then again I would not be the greatest fan of the same referee and that would be even allowing for how difficult it is to ref the modern game.
Dublin and Tyrone will benefit from the game as they will have learned a lot about certain players. For example, Tyrone introduced a sub who preceded to kick four balls into the Dublin goalkeeper's hands at a time when Tyrone were in a spell of dominance. This is not the Tyrone way are normally. They are a little more clinical. You must also consider that Dublin were struggling across there half forward line.
Mickey Harte will too realise how important it is for Stephen O'Neill to be fit to face Donegal in the championship, even though a lot of other Tyrone players lifted their game. I like what I saw of Mattie Donnelly and, of course, if he could get Ronan O'Neill back Harte's hand would be strengthened a bit as well. He was on the bench on Sunday after doing the cruciate last year .
While Harte will be disappointed to lose a game they had right in their sights, he will be happy enough with what may be available to him later in the year. We saw the arrival late in the game too of Kyle Coney so with those forwards available and the older lads still showing some hunger no one will take them for granted and, to be sure, the Ulster meeting with Donegal will be eagerly awaited. Donegal will have home venue and that might just see the All Ireland champions through and then will anyone like to meet either of these two teams in the back door? I think not.
Jim Gavin will have a different problem. Of course, it's one that every manager would have. I'm not sure that he is settled on his best team just yet, but he will be quite happy with the bit of bottle that his team showed on Sunday as in the last three or four minutes his side stood up to the northern challenge and, of course, as said earlier those crucial shots from Tyrone that fell short in to the goalkeeper's hands. Having said that Dublin will learn from this game as they had to did dig deep near the end and went on to win the first league title for Dublin in twenty years.
This Dublin team has at its disposal a very good panel of players. Remember they have had huge success at underage level over the last few seasons. They were many peoples favourites to win the Under 21s again this year, but Longford caused the first surprise of the Gaelic football season this year when they beat the Dubs in Leinster. However, that will be behind most of these lads now having bagged a league medal.
The Dubs will carry a lot of expectation into the championship, but one would wonder do this squad need another season with Jim Gavin?
They have a coach that will leave nothing to chance. He is sharp and decisive and proved he is not afraid to take off the stars if they're not performing as he showed on Sunday when he took off Bernard Brogan, who, to be honest, was not playing well.
The introduction of Dean Rock kept the Hill happy with a connection from former glory days and he obliged with two great and crucial points.
This Dublin team have a right blend of youth and experience, but, perhaps, the Dublin media might be their undoing as they have done before to Dublin teams.
No doubt there are a few teams, including our own, who might unhinge them.