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Red Hands will know the Dubs off by Harte

WHEN the final whistle sounded in last year's quarter-final thrashing by Kerry, Pat Gilroy's strategy for 2010 was clear in his own mind.

Build a team and gameplan based on high work-rate, intensity, and willingness to labour for each other that would cope better with the big three – the Kingdom, Tyrone and Cork.

It's a strategy that may not win some games but it was designed to lessen the impact of defeat and just maybe give Dublin a sporting chance if a few breaks went their way.

For me a defeat is a defeat regardless of the final score and Dublin teams should always be tactically set up to give them the best chance of victory.

However, Gilroy's model of defence, first introduced at the start of the league campaign and honed throughout the spring, has instilled a defensive instinct into the mindset of his players and his date with destiny has now arrived.

BLUEPRINT

The team that Pat has built will face their toughest championship match of 2010 against Tyrone tomorrow afternoon. Dublin have shown huge improvement over the last few weeks – demonstrating all the attributes required in Gilroy's new blueprint.

The question that now remains is how far can this gameplan bring Dublin?

For me this game is proving difficult to analyse and the heart can over-rule the head at times. As I said last Monday, Dublin are a dangerous animal this weekend and I suspect Mickey Harte may be a small bit worried. Harte has already gone out of his way this week to build up the Dubs.

So what must Dublin do to give themselves a real chance at headquarters tomorrow?

Dublin will try to play Tyrone at their own game. After all, Gilroy's strategy has adopted the Tyrone model except the Ulster side have played this system since their minor years and are totally versed in it – Dublin are not so wellversed, yet.

The tactical battle pits the pupil against the master and we will see Dublin in defensive mode trying to impose their high intensity game in the middle third hopeful that they can force Tyrone into as many turnovers as possible – not unlike the league game in Omagh earlier this year.

For me, the match up of Niall Corkery, David Henry and Bryan Cullen on the dangerous half-back line of Davy Harte, Conor Gormley and Philip Jordan will be crucial.

The best form of defence is attack and, as much as is humanly possible, Dublin's half-forwards must prevent the Tyrone trio being the springboard for their attacks. They must also put them on the backfoot and and keep them in their own half of the field from the first whistle.

If the Dublin half-forwards drift back in an overly defensive position deep in their own half, it will provide Tyrone with an open invitation to attack at will. The physical battle in the middle sector will also be significant and Dublin must impose themselves in this key area and make use of their primary ball.

That means winning long kickouts. The Ulster champions will expect Stephen Cluxton to go short regularly with his kickouts – but this would play into Tyrone hands as the ball-winning ability of Dublin’s centrefield pairing is limited.

MORE CLINICAL

Dublin’s forward trio of Eoghan O'Gara and the Brogan brothers, Alan and Bernard, will need to be more clinical in front of goal. Scoring opportunities will not come as easily as in recent games and a higher percentage return of scoring chances is required if Dublin are to win.

Discipline is also key and Dublin can expect the usual levels of verbals that comes with a Tyrone championship game.

O'Gara will need to be disciplined in his approach, as no doubt the inexperienced Dublin players will be targeted. Cluxton may also invest in a pair of ear plugs if he comes up the pitch to take any long range frees or 50s!

As regards Tyrone, they are arguably the team of the last decade with magnificent versatility. They play a relentless style of football that all the experts can talk about and analyse but absolutely nobody has managed to counteract.

Harte is tactically by far the best manager of his generation and over the years he has always been able to limit the contributions of the opposing team's top players on a consistent basis.

You may catch Tyrone once, as Meath and Cork have done in previous years, but I fear that Harte is too familiar with Dublin, as he is with Kerry also.

If this Tyrone team replicates their Monaghan performance then the Dubs are in for a tough afternoon. They have quality almost everywhere. Justin McMahon is probably the best full-back in the country and is supported by the experienced Ryan McMenamin and talented rookie Cathal McCarron.

Joe McMahon is the heartbeat of the team, liable to pop up anywhere to do any given job at any given time.

Seán Cavanagh can play at 8, 11 or 14 if required and Brian Dooher will cover all four corners of Croke Park. Typically for the game against the Dubs, Stephen O'Neill has regained fitness and will take a Dublin defender out of the equation if he comes on. The attention that O'Neill requires could open the door and create opportunities for Owen Mulligan.

Putting aside a high intensity work-rate, do Dublin have the versatility to cope with Tyrone’s strengths? I find it difficult to see how Dublin can cope if Tyrone bring their ‘A’ game to Croke Park.

However, my heart and passion for this team hopes that by the law of averages maybe Dublin are due a few breaks and if they can gain momentum and confidence at the key stages they might just cause an upset.

I will miss not being in the heart of the action tomorrow afternoon at Croke Park and hope the lads will do us proud.


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