THE last man to lead Dublin to championship victory over Tyrone has called on Pat Gilroy’s young team to "have a cut" at the Ulster kingpins in Croke Park this afternoon.
John O’Leary skippered the Dubs to All-Ireland final victory over Tyrone in 1995, but since then the Red Hands have emerged as a national superpower with three All-Ireland titles in the noughties while the Sky Blues have endured 15 fallow years without Sam.
That record isn’t expected to change this year, with Tyrone a prohibitive 4/9 to win today’s 4pm encounter. But O’Leary is hoping that any wavering focus from the favourites could open up a route to the last-four for Dublin.
“They have a chance. They have got back into the winning habit. They have been playing matches every week and that gives you momentum,” the netminding legend told the Evening Herald.
“In some ways it depends on which Tyrone team turns up. If Tyrone are highly focussed and go for it, Dublin will find it difficult to beat them. But if Tyrone are any way off 100 percent, I think Dublin have a good chance to catch them on the hop ... if Tyrone have any chinks in their armour in terms of attitude, preparation and focus, then Dublin have a real chance to exploit that, to open up the cracks and have a go.
“The fan base has fallen away a bit,” O’Leary added, “but they (the players) have nothing to lose. Have a right good cut at it and who knows?”
The key, for O’Leary, is to ensure that Dublin aren’t overwhelmed in the first half and then are still in the hunt with 15 minutes remaining. Then, anything is possible – albeit he “wouldn’t put my life savings” on a Sky Blue victory.
Part of the problem is that Tyrone’s style of getting men behind the ball, then counter-attacking with purpose, is “almost instinctive” whereas with Dublin, “it's just not instinctive yet. It can become that over time,” O’Leary suggested.
“In some ways, they are trying to ‘do a Tyrone' on Tyrone and that can be difficult. Sometimes, the best way to counteract the Tyrone style is by getting the ball in long and early – keep them pinned back. With a slow build-up they will choke you out.”
The former Wicklow boss admitted he is not a big fan of Dublin’s “stopstart” way of playing thus far, and he’s not even sure if they are aping the true Tyrone style. “I see them with lots of men behind the ball, but I would prefer more men charging forward in support of the guys who have won it,” O’Leary said.
“I don't see a Brian Dooher working the pitch between the two‘21s'. They haven't done that. I think Bryan Cullen has been a good addition to the team, the way he is playing.”
However, O’Leary sees a major difference between the Dubs of 2010, who are chasing an initial breakthrough, and the boys of ’95 for whom that All-Ireland final was “a last chance saloon”, who didn’t even play their best football against Tyrone but who could still savour “the whole relief of finally getting the holy grail”.