Wednesday 24 April 2019

Big hand to Tyrone as poor Dubs go crashing out

GAA, Allianz National Football League Division 1: Tyrone 1-14 Dublin 1-11

Not for the first time or last time, Mickey Harte summed up the significance of what we had all just witnessed, to our bemusement if not downright shock.

'Dublin know that they've got a target on their back,' said Harte. 'When people meet Dublin, they'll want to bring out their best. That was our incentive.'

Tyrone brought the best of their new kicking game and duly wreaked havoc in the guise of their converted twin terrors close to goal, Mattie Donnelly and man of the match Cathal McShane.

But Dublin weren't within a country mile of their best and, for one of the few times during Jim Gavin's all-conquering seven-year reign, their manager made no attempt to disguise what he made of it all.

'That level of performance from the Dublin players certainly is not good enough - at this level you'll be found out,' he concluded.

Found out? When have you last heard those two words uttered in the same sentence as Dublin?

The easy counter-argument is that, in this history-chasing season, the league was never going to be a priority. Yet that doesn't explain the soaring error count, ponderousness or even lack of ideas to break down a Tyrone side playing with 14 men from the 50th minute after Niall Sludden's dismissal.

Dublin have long been the hunted and have generally excelled in the role, but Saturday night was different for reasons that went beyond the statistical rap sheet: three Division 1 defeats in a season for the first time under Gavin, no league final berth for the first time since 2012 - all this with a team that included 12 of last year's All-Ireland line-up.

It left you wondering if Dublin are creaking under the weight of five-in-a-row expectation? In fairness, March and not August is the time to do so.

On a more practical level, this three-point defeat under-scored Dublin's most-debated vulnerability - a full-back line prone to struggle in one-to-one combat against bigger opponents.

It was evident from the game's first move, when Kieran McGeary's excellent pass located Donnelly, out in front of Jonny Cooper, to land the first of his three points from play.

Time and again Tyrone moved the ball accurately and at pace to the inside line. Donnelly and McShane have revelled in their new brief, but this was perhaps their finest hour since Tyrone embarked on a three-match winning streak that has pushed them into last-day league final contention, just a point behind Mayo and Galway, with the latter visiting Omagh next Sunday.

Cooper found Donnelly a first-half handful, while David Byrne struggled even more palpably on McShane, especially after he failed to intercept Donnelly's pass in the lead-up to Tyrone's 21st-minute goal.

McShane and Donnelly shared 1-7, while Tyrone tallied 0-3 from offensive marks - two for McShane, the first a sublime low catch, and one for Peter Harte after an over-the-shoulder fetch.

Several more Tyrone scores stemmed from pinpoint use of the foot. McShane's goal was created by two swift deliveries from the Donnelly brothers, Richie and Mattie. Two other goal chances came via angled route-one.

Suffice to say, Saturday might hasten the recall of a fit-again Philly McMahon, the only 2018 All-Ireland starter yet to feature this season.

It had all seemed so different - yet so familiar - when Paul Mannion's trademark defensive turnover launched a rapid counter-attack and electric Cormac Costello run and finish for a fourth-minute goal.

Yet, by half-time, Dublin had lost John Small to hamstring trouble and Costello to a leg injury that 'doesn't look too serious', his manager suggested.

Paddy Andrews replaced Costello, but he too departed after a shoulder from sweeper-keeper Niall Morgan caught him flush under the chin. The forward was left bloodied and visibly shaken.

'Paddy was taken to hospital with a head injury, so we'll just have to wait,' said Gavin.

Adding insult to injury was Dublin's fitful riposte once McShane's goal established a lead that Tyrone would never relinquish. Meanwhile, the Red Hand response to Sludden's sending-off - for a black card on top of an earlier yellow - was to kick the next three points and stretch five clear.

'I think the players sort of smelt victory at that stage and they didn't want to let anything take it from them,' said Harte, who insisted his first win over Gavin since the very same day in 2013 should be viewed merely as a 'stand-alone' game.

'I couldn't but be anything but very proud of the way the players performed,' he added.

Gavin's last word had a different tone.

'That will certainly give the management team a lot to reflect on and certainly give the Dublin players a lot to reflect on,' he concluded, 'because that just isn't good enough.'

SCORERS: Tyrone - C McShane 1-4 (0-2ms, 0-1f), M Donnelly, P Harte (2fs, 1m) 0-3 each, N Morgan (2fs), R Donnelly 0-2 each; Dublin - P Mannion 0-4 (2fs, 1m), C Costello 1-0, D Rock (2f), C Kilkenny 0-2 each, C O'Callaghan, B Fenton, P Andrews 0-1 each.

TYRONE: N Morgan; R McNamee, P Hampsey, HP McGeary; K McGeary, F Burns, C Meyler; B McDonnell, B Kennedy; P Harte, N Sludden, R Donnelly; T McCann, C McShane, M Donnelly. Subs: R Brennan for McCann (12min), C McAliskey for Burns (60), C Cavanagh for McNamee (62), D McCurry for Kennedy (70).

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; J Cooper, D Byrne, C O'Connor; J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton, B Howard; N Scully, C Kilkenny, C O'Callaghan; C Costello, P Mannion, D Rock. Subs: D Daly for Small (31min), P Andrews for Costello (35), K McManamon for Andrews (inj temp 48), D Gavin for O'Sullivan (57), E O'Gara for Rock (60), C Basquel for Scully (74).

Referee: J Henry (Mayo)

Fingal Independent