Supersub Rock breaks Tyrone hearts in epic final
Dublin 0-18 Tyrone 0-17
IF the sign-off game from NFL 2013 holds any indication of what the championship has in store, then it's going to be a wonderful summer.
Dublin and Tyrone unloaded themselves of so much energy and enterprise in their ever-engaging battle for supremacy in Croke Park yesterday that it augurs well for both as they prepare to reprogramme their systems for the more intense tests ahead.
There was an obvious looseness to the play that rarely applies in the championship but with the fundamentals looking solid for both squads they have every reason to be confident of exerting considerable influence on the summer/ autumn story.
First, though, Dublin will enjoy the warm glow of having won the Division 1 title for the first time in 20 years after outsprinting Tyrone over the final yards.
Two points by Dean Rock, who replaced Bernard Brogan in the 58th minute, and one by Jack McCaffrey in the final four minutes steered Dublin to victory after they had trailed six times in the second half.
They were only a point behind on each occasion and invariably succeeded in drawing level before opening up a two-point lead in stoppage-time, after Sean Cavanagh fired over Tyrone's last point in the 71st minute.
In a rather distorted view of reality, the pre-match markets priced Tyrone at 3/1 outsiders, a rating they clearly disregarded as they set about bringing their trademark efficiency to the challenge.
Their task was made all the harder by the later withdrawal of full-forward and team captain Stephen O'Neill, who injured his ankle when stepping on a ball in the pre-match warm-up.
It was a serious setback for Tyrone, even if replacement Conor McAliskey did very well, scoring three points from open play.
Still, there's no doubt that O'Neill was missed as his experience, positioning and finishing would have added to the workload of a Dublin full-back line that looked uneasy at times.
Also, with McAliskey starting, it meant that Tyrone had one less top-mark replacement to spring from the bench. For all that, they looked the more likely to win at different times in the second half as they pressed forward in big numbers.
However, they didn't always exploit their opportunities, wasting quite a few with shots that dropped short into Stephen Cluxton's hands.
Once again, the overall strength of the Dublin squad was a key factor as most of their subs did well – none more so than Rock, who took his two scoring chances in a manner reminiscent of his father Barney, who delighted Dublin supporters with his wizardry for so long in the 1980s and '90s.
Jim Gavin withdrew Brogan before the hour mark, by which stage it was apparent that Dublin's top scorer throughout the league was experiencing one of those days when his game just wasn't going to come right.
Cathal McCarron had done an excellent marking job on Brogan, whose only scores came from frees.
He pointed five times but also missed a relatively simple one midway through the second half when the ball hit the post. Rock brought a considerable improvement to the Dublin attack at a crucial stage of a game which produced virtually the same scoreline as the divisional clash between the counties in March (Tyrone 0-18 Dublin 1-14).
The closeness of the scoring over two games underlines just how little there is between the teams but that was no consolation to Tyrone as they headed back north. "Dublin were the in-form team in the League so it's encouraging that we were able to match them for so long but that doesn't get you any trophies," said manager Mickey Harte.
It does, however, suggest that Tyrone are heading into a good position to take up the Donegal challenge in the Ulster quarter-final on May 26. McCarron, Conor Clarke and Matthew Donnelly did well in defence, while Cavanagh, initially at centre-forward and later in a broader role, and McAliskey subjected Dublin to a real test.
With O'Neill and Peter Harte likely to be back for the Donegal game, Tyrone are well-placed to build on the progress made over the last few months.
As for Dublin, they have achieved their first ambition under Gavin's management and will now focus on fine-tuning ahead of their championship opener against Carlow or Westmeath on June 2. It looked early on yesterday as if they would have a relatively trouble-free day as they bounded into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after 11 minutes.
Indeed, they should have been further ahead as Cian O'Sullivan had a good goal opportunity in the fourth minute but drove wide.
Once Tyrone settled into their routine, they quickly wiped out Dublin's lead and with the balance of power alternating between the sides, the rest of the half bounded along at a brisk pace. It was level at 0-10 each at half-time, with Tyrone having scored the last two points.
Paul Mannion, Paddy Andrews and Diarmuid Connolly did well in the Dublin attack in the first half, while Michael Darragh Macauley's runs from midfield caused Tyrone problems too.
The pattern changed somewhat in the second half, with Tyrone shading the possession battle, prompting Gavin to begin repair work around midfield at the three-quarter stage.
Dublin's strength in depth enabled Gavin to replace O'Sullivan and Macauley with Denis Bastick and Philly McMahon respectively, while Rock's arrival was an added bonus, one which eventually proved decisive.
Ending a 20-year wait for a league title has made it a highly satisfactory spring campaign for Gavin but he would be the first to admit that his side remains very much a work in progress.
The full-back line got their angles wrong on a quite a few occasions, while Ger Brennan was troubled by Cavanagh's strong running game. Suffice to say, there are likely to be defensive changes for the championship.
Gavin has five weeks to settle on his best formation, whereas Harte must get everything right in four weeks in order to give Tyrone the best chance of unseating Donegal.
One area where he has no problems is in goal, where Niall Morgan has settled in as an authoritative figure.
In addition, he is a serious scoring weapon, having finished in fourth place on Tyrone's strike list in the league campaign.
He was their top scorer on 0-5 (four frees, one '45') yesterday, taking his total for the league to 0-18.
Scorers – Dublin: B Brogan 0-5 (5fs), P Mannion 0-4 (1f), D Connolly, D Rock 0-2 each, B Cullen, P Andrews, P McMahon, S Cluxton (1f), J McCaffrey 0-1 each. Tyrone: N Morgan 0-5 (4fs, 1'45'), S Cavanagh 0-4 (1f), C McAliskey 0-3, M Penrose 0-2 (2fs), Matthew Donnelly, Mark Donnelly, C Gormley 0-1 each.
Dublin – S Cluxton 7; K O'Brien 6, J Cooper 6, D Daly 7; J McCarthy 7, G Brennan 6, J McCaffrey 7; MD Macauley 7, C O'Sullivan 6; J Whelan 5, D Connolly 7, B Cullen 6; P Mannion 8, P Andrews 7, B Brogan 5. Subs: S Carthy 6 for Whelan (ht), K McManamon 7 for Cullen (46), D Bastick 7 for O'Sullivan (48), P McMahon 7 for Macauley (52), D Rock 8 for Brogan (58).
Tyrone – N Morgan 8; C McCarron 8, C Clarke 7, PJ Quinn 6; C Gormley 7, D Carlin 5, Matthew Donnelly 7; C Cavanagh 6, Joe McMahon 6; Mark Donnelly 6, S Cavanagh 8, Justin McMahon 5; M Penrose 6, C McAliskey 7, P McNiece 5. Subs: A Cassidy 7 for Carlin (32), P Kane 6 for Justin McMahon (ht), K Coney 6 for McNiece (58), R McKenna for Gormley (66), D McCurry for Cassidy (71).
Ref – Marty Duffy (Sligo).