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Gavin's great entertainers putting best foot forward

The paltry Dublin crowd on Hill 16 yesterday, compared to other big days in recent years, indicated that GAA fans in general are getting more particular about how they spend their money.

Clearly a lot of Dubs fans had reckoned that there was no way Mayo were going to beat their side in this league semi-final and were happy to wait for the decider.

That judgment does scant justice to Mayo, because they played their part in a good contest, with plenty of excellent football and some wonderful scores.

But there was one vital ingredient missing to make this a truly great game – tension. The result was never in doubt once Dublin rattled in two fine goals within three minutes at the start of the second quarter. Thereafter it was an exercise in damage limitation for Mayo and, in fairness, they battled back well.

Dublin's progress is gathering pace, but this game didn't tell us too much we didn't already know about Jim Gavin's men.

Mayo were simply missing too many top class players to be capable of beating a side of Dublin's devastating quality, particularly in their forward line.


Free-taker Cillian O'Connor scored 0-8 (7fs) of Mayo's total of 0-16; midfielders got three more leaving the remaining forwards with a meagre tally of five points.

The Dublin attacking machine scored 2-13, which shows clearly where the divergence in quality was on this occasion. Some of Dublin's scores were brilliantly conceived, with speed of movement and precision, close-range hand-passing the integral components.

What was particularly noticable, too, was that Dublin were able to move the ball by foot-passing and kicking extremely well. It really is an attractive game to watch.

Those of us fortunate enough to be in Croke Park yesterday were privileged because we had the opportunity of watching one of the most talented scoring forwards of the past decade at his brilliant best.

Tyrone captain Stephen O'Neill registered scores yesterday in the 2-15 to 2-11 win over Kildare in a very breezy stadium that I doubt any other player would have achieved. Two of the highlights of his brilliant display came in the closing minutes of a close game as Tyrone were holding on to a narrow lead.

In the 68th minute, O'Neill turned opponent Peter Kelly with a brilliant dummy in the right corner that left Kelly on the ground and he then sliced over a brilliant point from a very acute angle.

A minute later, in the opposite corner, and almost along the end line, he slotted over an even more difficult point with his left foot. It was sheer football brilliance.

O'Neill and Matthew Donnelly were the driving forces behind this Tyrone victory, scoring 2-6 between them. Apart from the Tyrone pair's scoring feats, the main reason why their team won was that they were far cuter than Kildare and their decision-making was much better. One has to ask, when will Kildare master the art of winning tight games in Croke Park?

They have some of the best footballers in the country, but constantly seem to get their wires crossed when opponents with more football craft make the decisive moves in the final quarter of games.

It certainly takes away from the otherwise top-quality football that Kildare are capable of playing in nearly every big game.

This was a crucial victory for Tyrone because it gives them a platform to enjoy a productive championship season. Their dependence on long-serving players, however, is probably a worry for their fans.

There's not enough young players coming into the team, but the undoubted cuteness that their older players possess is a priceless asset, as we saw yesterday.

Adaptability is another important quality in a team and Tyrone certainly have that.

There was no better example yesterday than Sean Cavanagh, who was getting a roasting at midfield in the first 20 minutes, but, when switched to full-forward, played a vital role in keeping his team in front with his capacity to win the long ball and make use of it.

By contrast, Kildare often seemed unsure of whether they should let the ball in long or rotate it through several players to reach the scoring zone.

Against hardened defensive opponents like Tyrone, the latter option was not a very wise tactic.

What is encouraging, of course, for Kildare is the arrival of several U-21 players who have certainly given new vitality to the set-up.

Irish Independent

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