Monday 18 December 2017

Cool Connolly saves Dublin

DUBLIN'S ambitions of retaining the league title swung precariously in the Omagh wind before zoning back on track as Sean Cavanagh's effort for the equaliser with the final kick of the game veered wide.

A draw would have been enough to earn Tyrone a place in next Sunday's semi-finals while ushering Dublin through the exit door, but Cavanagh just missed the target, shooting under intense pressure from a posse of Dublin defenders.

It was a dramatic end to a game where the balance of power fluctuated wildly. Dublin were utterly rampant in the first quarter, hitting Tyrone for 3-3 and looking very much like a side that was programmed for mayhem.

Their pace and power took them past sloppy Tyrone tackling with an ease not normally afforded visiting teams in Healy Park.

The blue momentum cranked up immediately from the off when wing-back James McCarthy was the final recipient in a crisp move and he looped his shot to the net.

Tyrone goalkeeper, Niall Morgan should have done better but he had no chance 45 seconds later when Jason Whelan – one of four changes from Dublin's published team – whipped home the second goal.

It left Tyrone, who were playing with a stiff wind, trailing by two goals after just 70 seconds and facing a mountainous challenge which became even more intimidating in the 16th minute when Michael Darragh Macauley's run from midfield wasn't picked up.

His attacking colleagues were weaving through the Tyrone defence in a classy interchange, before Macauley arrived to provide the crunching finish.

Tyrone had kicked 0-3 at that stage but were looking more like a Division 2 side in danger of relegation than contenders for the top prize. They were still nine points adrift after 30 minutes – 3-4 to 0-4 – having also kicked several wides, with corner-forwards, Darren McCurry and Connor McAliskey the main culprits.

It looked utterly hopeless for Tyrone but, to their credit, they dug in for a dogged fight which ultimately took them so very close to rescuing what had looked like a desperate situation.

They out-scored Dublin by 1-11 to 0-6 in the final 40 minutes, having pared two points off the deficit by half-time. They out-battled Dublin for long stretches of the second half, gradually eating into the lead which they cut to two points after 49 minutes before Dublin countered with three points.

Tyrone still weren't finished and when Peter Harte slotted a penalty to the net in the 60th minute after Shay McGuigan was floored by Dublin goalkeeper Sean Currie, the deficit was down to a point.

Ten minutes later, it was wiped out when Matty Donnelly fired over a point which left Tyrone supporters in the crowd of 9,327 believing that the great escape had been achieved.

However, there was one last painful sting for Tyrone when Diarmuid Connolly patiently held possession before working himself into a shooting position and hoisting what proved to be the winning point in the 72nd minute.

In line with most Dublin-Tyrone games, there were plenty of talking points, starting with the performance of referee, Marty Duffy. He black-carded Tyrone full-back, Ronan McNamee in the fourth minute and dismissed his Dublin counterpart Rory O'Carroll on a second yellow in the 60th minute.

Both looked fairly harsh decisions, certainly when compared to the leniency shown to Currie for the foul which conceded the penalty. It looked like a classic case for a black card but the referee deemed otherwise, which really was difficult to understand.

'It certainly seemed as much a black card as the one we received in the first few minutes. There you go. We're looking for consistency – have you seen it out there today?' asked Mickey Harte.

The answer is an emphatic 'no'. Mind you, consistency of performance was also missing from both sides, with Dublin switching off after their blistering start and Tyrone opening so poorly that it left them with an awesome recovery task.

That they came so close to achieving it provided a clear example of the battling spirit running through the squad, a virtue which pleased Harte.

'We left ourselves with a real uphill battle; we had enough to do to beat them anyway without giving them that kind of cushion to start with. You have to praise the effort of our players in the second half. We went back out to try and win the game – we did everything we could,' said the Tyrone boss.

Jim Gavin was a relieved man after watching his side come so close to blowing a glorious opportunity to continue their league adventure.

He was especially pleased with the manner in which they manufactured the winning point, which underlined their capacity to work their way through difficult problems.

'We place a lot of emphasis in the sessions in having guys coming up with a solution. To create an opportunity against a defence as formidable as Tyrone's was great. Technically, Diarmuid Connolly executed the short ball very well.

'Both ourselves and Tyrone will be happy with a workout like that, with the championship just around the corner,' he said.

Dublin will have at least one more opportunity (against Cork next Sunday) to work their pre-championship programme, while Tyrone's next assignment will be against Down in the Ulster championship in Omagh on May 18.

Harte would have dearly loved to extend Tyrone's league season into Croke Park and the knockout stages and wasn't taking any consolation from signing off with such a spirited comeback.

'It's okay to say you'll take a lot from a game like that but we'd take a lot more out of it if we were through to the semi-final. There aren't many cups handed out for moral victories,' he said.

Pilfering both points at Omagh represented a very satisfactory day's work for Dublin, albeit in much more difficult circumstances than they'd have expected after 16 minutes yesterday.

Nonetheless, they are back in Croke Park, a venue that may house all their action for the rest of the season.

TYRONE: N Morgan 0-3 (2f, 1 '45'); A McCrory, R McNamee, R McKenna; C McGinley, Mattie Donnelly 0-1, P Harte 1-1 (1-0 pen); C Cavanagh, S Cavanagh 0-1; E McKenna, S McGuigan, Mark Donnelly 0-1; D McCurry 0-6 (4f), K Coney, C McAliskey. Subs: D McBride for McNamee (4 BC), M Penrose for E McKenna (20) R O'Neill 0-2f, for Coney (ht), C Gormley for McAliskey (57), D Carlin for McGinley (61), N McKenna for McGuigan (66).

DUBLIN: S Currie; J Cooper, R O'Carroll, P McMahon 0-1; J McCarthy 1-0, K Nolan, J McCaffrey; MD Macauley 1-0, T Brady; J Whelan 1-1, D Connolly 0-5 (3f), B Cullen 0-1; A Brogan 0-1, E O'Gara, K McManamon 0-1. Subs: P Andrews for Cullen, Davy Byrne for Brady (45), N Devereux for McCaffrey (54), C Costello for Brogan (57). Yellow cards: McManamon (21), Whelan (26), O'Carroll (28), Macauley (35), McCarthy (46), Connolly (52), O'Carroll (65), O'Gara (73).

Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).

Fingal Independent

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