Wednesday 29 January 2020

Joe Brolly: If I were Jim Gavin, I would send Con O'Callaghan on holiday for a fortnight

Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Michael McKernan of Tyrone
Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Michael McKernan of Tyrone
Niall Sludden of Tyrone. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

The striking feature of the game was how silent the crowd was. Dublin are so aware of everything that is happening on the field that they do not relinquish control, and a sense of inevitability soon descends upon the audience.

The game has never seen this level of control freakery, with Dublin able to play the game any way that is required. On four occasions in the second half, for example, they held the ball for more than two minutes. On three of those occasions they finished with a score. Which is a bummer for the opposition.

Tyrone employed a 1-12-2 formation to start with, and although they had more possession than the Dubs, they fell steadily behind. This was because they were not committing fully to the counter-attack. With their runners not coming in numbers from deep, coupled with the fact that their two inside forwards were isolated against their men who both played in front, plus Cian O'Sullivan sweeping, their attacks were grinding to a standstill. Only a series of superb scores from their defenders kept them in it.

Never mind all of Dublin's other great attributes. In this game, it was their ferocity in the tackle (without fouling) that was most important.

In the 13th minute, Jonny Cooper dived full-length to block a Connor McAliskey point effort, the Dubs swarmed the loose ball and came away with it. At that point, a plane might as well have flown over Healy Park with a banner saying, 'Not today lads, not today'.

Eoin Murchan neutralised Niall Sludden, Tyrone's most dangerous forward, to the extent he was taken off. Peter Harte was likewise neutered by John Small. Cooper was his usual heroic self, regularly putting his head where one wouldn't put a crow bar.

By half-time, Tyrone had no attack options and the end was nigh. In the 39th minute it duly came, James McCarthy rampaging through after another turnover to score a goal Colm O'Rourke would have been proud of.

Beforehand, Tyrone had narrowed the pitch by six metres to condense Dublin's attack and it certainly slowed Dublin's scoring rate. Yet in a way, that's all it did. The Dubs still never looked in the slightest danger of losing.

Con O'Callaghan - just like last weekend against Donegal - looked uncertain and indecisive, and wasted a number of opportunities, including an amazing miss from an easy fisted opportunity near the end. For me, this young man is mentally exhausted after a series of ferocious campaigns with Cuala hurlers and Dublin seniors. If I were Jim Gavin, I would send him on holiday for a fortnight and tell him to come back the Tuesday after the Roscommon match.

Likewise, Paul Mannion looks mentally tired, even if his tackling and defensive work-rate is stupendous. However, the Lord did not put him on this earth to defend, and he is presenting a problem for Gavin, who must be wondering how to unlock the current blockage in his head.

When the Dubs went five up, just as they had done against Donegal, they went into holding mode. Tyrone (like Donegal) allowed this to happen by keeping all 14 outfielders inside the 45, so for a good part of the second half there was a stalemate which was entirely to Dublin's advantage. Then, with four minutes of normal time remaining and the gap still at five, Tyrone had a rattle at it, and for the first time all day, there was genuine excitement.

Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs momentarily unravelled, two in succession going over the sideline before Tyrone turned over a third. When they came within two points of the champions with a second superb score from young Kieran McGeary well into injury time, the crowd roared. But the excitement was short-lived. The game's foremost control freaks worked a short kick-out and held possession for almost three minutes, sucking the life out of Tyrone, drew them out from their defensive shell, then broke through for Paul Flynn to kick an easy point and leave the final score 1-14 to 0-14.

Tyrone will gain a lot of confidence from this, going into their decisive group decider against Donegal. The fear that must have haunted them after the blue skies fell in on them in Croke Park last year has been banished. They just took far too long to commit fully to the attack. Their mode of play for the first 66 minutes of this game would be severely punished by the Dubs in Croke Park, where one can assume the groundsmen will not be shortening the pitch.

Sunday Indo Sport

The Left Wing: Ireland's Six Nations target, a French revival and Ian Madigan's future

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport