Dublin's work ethic earns glory
Dublin football moved out of the darkness yesterday with a wholly unexpected and emphatic defeat of Tyrone, a team that has been one of the benchmarks for those aspiring to become meaningful All-Ireland contenders.
The win, great and deserved as it was, does not make its architects the finished article. But famished and forlorn as they've been, they'll gain great nourishment from this day.
Last season's "startled earwigs", in Pat Gilroy's immortal words, have come a long way. The time since has been spent slowly rebuilding confidence and self-esteem, but in the Leinster championship they shipped five goals in a hefty defeat to Meath; it has not been a smooth ride. Yesterday's match looked set to provide a rigorous analysis of their true worth and progress and they came through it with a performance that will have delighted their followers.
They had already beaten Tyrone in the league this year, but that at a time when the Ulstermen were displaying a turgidity that would eventually lead to relegation. Still, for a county in need of some sustenance, Dublin happily fed on it. They needed all the encouragement they could get after all. The immediate championship precedent, two years earlier on a rain-swept day in Croke Park, qualified as a moment of brutal realisation for Dublin football and ended the last management reign. The even more cataclysmic savaging of Dublin by Kerry a year later ranked as one of their worst ever.
So, it was time, in the words of the song, to rip it up and start again. Since losing to Meath they had worked their way back through the qualifiers to reach the quarter-finals, including a win over Armagh, the kind of team that has frustrated Dublin's ambitions in recent years. Adding Tyrone's scalp, even one as out of sorts as yesterday's version, will work wonders for their vaulting ambition and belief.
"We studied them forensically," said Mickey Harte afterwards, "but you can't study what it is like to be toe-to-toe with a team who is in the business of giving it all they've got. I suppose it was a case of two teams working very hard and making life hard for each other, and one team probably had that little bit more efficient around the goals than the other. I think that is probably the bottom line of it all."
That isn't a bad analysis. Tyrone were murdered on the Dublin kick-outs, mopping up virtually every one, and they opted to go short with almost all of theirs. Michael Macauley had a great match alongside Ross McConnell and up front Bernard Brogan again provided the touch of class to put distance between the sides. He finished the day with nine points, four from play. Cathal McCarron started on him but was replaced and Justin McMahon found the going no easier. Dublin scavenged for every ball and outplayed Tyrone at their own game. It would have been a travesty had they lost.
"It's a big day and a huge win for a lot of lads," admitted Bernard Brogan. "We have been criticised for playing as individuals and you could see the team working for one another. Coming in as underdogs helped us."
Tyrone kicked 17 wides, or thereabouts, and yet had managed to draw level at 0-13 apiece through Owen Mulligan six minutes from the end. The game-breaker came a minute later when the tireless Eoghan O'Gara, inelegant but madly industrious, reacted to a rebound off the upright and planted a fierce shot past Pascal McConnell. Almost immediately Conal Keaney tagged on a free and Dublin moved four in front and would not lose it from there. Macauley added one more before the finish for decoration.
On a day when their great rivals Kerry also crashed out, naturally there will be talk of retirements and a possible power shift. Sean Cavanagh, usually an inspirational force, tried desperately in the second half to rouse his side but shot four wides. He finished without a score. Mulligan was their best forward with three points from play, but Brian Dooher and Brian McGuigan had minimal impact. Philip Jordan came up to score two fine points yet Tyrone were unable to find their stride after half time, having gone in at the interval a point in front following their best spell.
The good start Dublin needed materialised. They had three early points on the board, Tyrone failing to score for eight minutes and taking a long time to adjust to Dublin's early pace-setting. After 20 minutes Dublin were ahead 0-5 to 0-2, Bernard Brogan converting three of four first-half frees and Bryan Cullen chipping in with an excellent score, breaking the Tyrone tackle and slicing the ball over at the old Canal End.
Dublin lorried into everything in sight. They turned over Tyrone ball and won many of the man-to-man challenges and with each passing minute their chests expanded and the home support grew more vocal and encouraging and believing. In the promising spell of Dublin labour, experienced Tyrone players Conor Gormley and Ryan McMenamin were placed under such pressure that they coughed up scoreable frees. The same determined will drew the first half's only '45, Stephen Cluxton striking the ball sweetly to put Dublin a goal clear.
Tyrone had just one score from play by then and their forwards were struggling, with Cavanagh and Mulligan left inside, and Martin Penrose straying out the field. Penrose's marker, Philip McMahon, stayed put and Tyrone kicked poorly from distance when eschewing the option of bringing the ball closer to goal. Yet Tyrone found their feet and by half-time they were 0-8 to 0-7 in front. Dublin contributed to their own mishap with costly fouling which Penrose and Mulligan punished. Five of their eight first-half points were from frees. Just before half-time Dublin had a let-off when Penrose was put clean through by McGuigan and his thunderous shot came back off the crossbar.
In the final 15 minutes of the half the trend had been altered. Dublin managed just two more points, while Tyrone ran up six and should have had a goal. Five of those scores were without reply and the Dublin tackling had an ominous desperation to it. How misleading that would prove to be.
Scorers -- Dublin: B Brogan 0-9 (4f); E O'Gara 1-0; B Cullen, P McMahon, S Cluxton ('45'), C Keaney (1f), M Macauley, A Brogan 0-1 each. Tyrone: M Penrose (3f); O Mulligan (2f) 0-5 each; P Jordan 0-2; B McGuigan 0-1.
Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fizsimons, R O'Carroll, P McMahon; K Nolan, G Brennan, B Cahill; M Macauley, R McConnell; N Corkery, A Brogan, B Cullen; D Henry, E O'Gara, B Brogan. Subs: C O'Sullivan for Cahill (h-t); P Flynn for Henry (h-t); E Fennell for Corkery (43); C Keaney for A Brogan (50); A Brogan for Cullen (67).
Tyrone: P McConnell; C McCarron, Justin McMahon, R McMenamin; D Harte, C Gormley, P Jordan; C Cavanagh, K Hughes; B Dooher, B McGuigan, Joe McMahon; M Penrose, S Cavanagh, O Mulligan. Subs: D Carlin for McCarron (24); S O'Neill for Harte (h-t); E McGinley for Hughes (61); P Harte for Penrose (63).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).