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Dubs need Healy win

WHEN the Allianz Football League top-flight fixtures were announced last October, the last-day encounter between Tyrone and Dublin was an obvious one to circle in the calendar.

Here was a renewal of the 2013 Division One decider involving the team that won everything going last season (Dublin) and the only team to actually beat them in league or championship combat (Tyrone).

The only variable was whether April 6 would count for anything beyond Red Hand/Sky Blue bragging rights.

ANSWER

Following last weekend's set of results, we have our answer. Tyrone/Dublin is not alone match of the day, it almost qualifies as the only gig in town.

True, what happens in Castlebar will be significant for Mayo and what transpires in Tralee could, theoretically, parachute Kerry into an unlikely semi-final place.

But ... well, Healy Park is the place to be because this is the only genuine winner-takes-all shootout taking place in Division One.

By now, doubtless, you've done the maths. Tyrone are on eight points and Dublin seven. A draw will suffice for Mickey Harte's men, whereas Dublin must win to be guaranteed a top-four berth.

The latter could draw or even lose and still conspire to qualify – but only if an improbable chain of results go their way in Mayo and Kerry. Conclusion; Jim Gavin's men should forget their calculators and go full-blooded for both points, in which case Tyrone will be the ones to suffer deflation on the last day.

Curiously enough, it has happened before up in Omagh. Four years ago, Dublin ventured north harbouring hopes of a league final place and registered an emphatic 2-14 to 1-11 victory, primarily on the back of a swashbuckling first-half display against a Tyrone defence marked absent without leave.

As it transpired, that wasn't enough to propel Pat Gilroy's men into a long overdue league decider (they were pipped by Mayo), but it did condemn Tyrone to Division Two for the first time this millennium.

You could even posit the theory that April 2010 was a watershed in the relationship between both counties. For much of the noughties, Tyrone held the whip hand when it really mattered – August '05 and '08 being top of the list – but Gilroy's Dublin reasserted championship supremacy in '10 and '11, and Gavin's Dublin reaffirmed their top-dog status in last year's league final. Albeit by the proverbial whisker.

Tomorrow, though, looks anything but straight forward for the league holders. First up, they're removed from the familiar comforts of Croker. It's hard to pass definitive judgement on how Dublin will cope on the road because they've only had two away games thus far – by winning in Westmeath, they were merely doing the expected, whereas the Derry display was arguably their most unnerving as All-Ireland champions.

The venue, you'd expect, should be worth a couple of points to Tyrone (who've already toppled Mayo and Westmeath in front of their own). The absence of Stephen Cluxton could be an even bigger game-breaker.

It's almost 10 years – the 2004 Leinster quarter-final against Westmeath, to be precise – since the Dublin custodian has missed a game of such significance. He has no one to blame bar himself, of course, but that reckless red mist moment against Mayo could have profound implications here, for all the obvious reasons ... Dublin must plan without his peerless ability to direct the game plan via those pinpoint restarts, not to mention his twin abilities as shot-stopping and free-taking supremo.

Seán Currie is still pretty new to the unenviable job of being Cluxton's back-up. Last Saturday night, he was parachuted into the maelstrom of a madcap game and, perhaps understandably, he struggled at times – with his use of possession and decision-making rather than his hands.

HEADACHES

Suffice to say, tomorrow will be a big ask for the new man wearing No 1. However, Gavin was faced with other selection headaches this week, what with Paul Flynn's suspected concussion against Mayo and the tug of love over Dublin's U21 contingent, who were all in Leinster final action against Meath on Wednesday, Cormac Costello and Shane Carthy picking up knocks in the process.

Given all the above, last night's team announcement shouldn't be taken as gospel – not that Jim Gavin's Friday night missives ever are.

After all, Eoghan O'Gara, who was originally listed to start against Mayo, duly gave way for Costello ... and then came on in the home straight to rescue the unlikeliest of draws with his stunning two-goal salvo.

Which brings us, via a circuitous route, to why Dublin might, just might, do enough here. They should have lost to Mayo, but refused to accept their post-Cluxton 'fate'. They dug it out.

Tyrone did something similar to rescue a commendable draw in Cork last weekend, so this promises to be a huge ask for the champions. Let's see do they still have the answers ...

ODDS: Tyrone 6/5, Draw 8/1, Dublin 10/11

VERDICT: Dublin


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