Gilroy's terriers signal end of great tyrone era
Published 08/08/2011 | 05:00
Watching Dublin play Tyrone on Saturday, I was reminded of the behaviour of terrier dogs in the old days at the threshing 'meitheals.' These clever canines always knew that if there were stacks of corn ready for threshing, there were bound to be rodents escaping as the stacks were opened up.
The terriers were ready for action and quickly pounced on each unfortunate rat and disposed of them in ruthless fashion.
That was how it was at Croke Park. From the word go, the Dublin players seemed certain that Tyrone were gong to be their victims and it was only a matter of picking off one former star player after another and speedily disposing of them in the man-to-man contests.
It was brutal and decisive, and in the process it demolished the last fragments of one of the best football teams we have seen over the past 25 years.
One by one, greats like Sean Cavanagh, the McMahons, Kevin Hughes, Conor Gormley, Owen Mulligan, Philip Jordan and even the greatest of them all, Brian Dooher, were dismantled in front of our very eyes, leaving Dublin with the relatively simple task of finishing off Tyrone as a football force at All-Ireland level for this year and possibly a few more after that.
But when recent champions fall, the big question is, will their conquerors match up in performance when the chance for ultimate glory comes?
We will have to wait for another while to establish that, but there is no doubt that based on what we saw on Saturday, this Dublin team have improved substantially on anything they had previously achieved in 2011.
It may well be that, like the other handful of teams who have been serious All-Ireland contenders in recent years, Dublin have at last decided to largely skip the championship preliminaries pre-August and concentrate on the 'real' All-Ireland, starting with the quarter-finals.
However, as always, there have to be caveats about Dublin's future until they actually do win the Sam Maguire Cup because they have failed so often in the closing stages for the past nine years.
Nevertheless, any fair-minded person must appreciate the quality of football played by Dublin on Saturday night.
It was expansive in that footpassing was of the highest standard, and this tactic above all denied the ageing Tyrone team the opportunity to utilise their own well-practised ploy of crowding their defence and then rushing downfield at speed to create scores at the other end.
This tactic was a non-entity in this game simply because Dublin never gave their opponents enough of the ball to indulge in such activity. Instead, Tyrone were left clutching at straws all over the field, starting with complete domination by the Dubs in the middle third right from the start.
It was not so much that the Dublin midfield pairing of Michael Darragh Macauley and Denis Bastick played starring roles -- though they were very solid -- but rather that the ball was often sent directly from Dublin's defence to their forwards with bewildering speed through a mixture of long passing and decisive running with the ball straight through Tyrone opponents.
It was a style so beloved of Tyrone in their heyday and how it must have galled Red Hand fans to see the tables being turned on them so decisively.
But big games cannot be won without big personal performances, and cometh the man cometh the hour in the shape of Diarmuid Connolly. The St Vincent's player has been an enigma for so long, meaning that few people knew what to make of him but he burst forth with a vengeance this time with seven spectacular points from play, mainly with his supposedly weaker left foot.
If he maintains that sort of form for two more matches, he could end up as Footballer of the Year.
Of course, caution must be observed. Justin McMahon was supposed to be marking Connolly, but the word 'marking' is a joke in this case, because Connolly got unlimited space and time to loft over these wonderful points.
You would have thought that the Tyrone backroom team would be able to come up with a player to mark the best opposing forward in any particular game? Surely the failure in this regard on Saturday was the ultimate sign that Tyrone have lost the plot, for now at least?
And how come they never used their ultimate trademark tactic of pulling back a couple of extra defenders? Very strange indeed.
Euphoria has no place in assessing big games unless you have won the final, so more discerning Dublin people will question the ridiculous number of 35 frees conceded by their team as opposed to 12 by Tyrone and the rather negative way they set about holding on to their big lead in the second half.
Of course, after recent experiences, such as in this year's Allianz League final against Cork and the All-Ireland semi-final last year against the Rebels, Dublin can justifiably claim it worked this time.
There may also be some unease that Dublin failed to score a goal, having had half a dozen glorious chances inside the 20-metre line. And the many blunders made by the Tyrone backline certainly opened the door for some relatively handy Dublin points.
But confidence and an element of brashness has always been a key component for Dublin football teams and this time it paid off.
The fabulous series of footpasses sprayed around by Bernard Brogan, usually regarded more as a scorer, was a huge boost to the team and the player himself and showed a new dimension to his play.
The Dublin backline continues to grow in efficiency and the manner in which they constantly beat Tyrone players to the ball, and even took the ball off them on other occasions, showed that they probably have the best defence left in the championship, with all due respect to Donegal's mean rearguard reputation.
Finally, while Tyrone may have ended a glorious chapter in their history, nobody can deny their bravery and heart right up to the the final whistle.