Tyrone will give Pat Gilroy the answers to some lingering questions hanging over Blues, says Martin Breheny
IF the Dublin players who were on the panel two years ago thumbed back through the famous 'Blue Book' which underpinned their psychological structure that season, they would find themselves ruminating on the considered wisdom of Gautama Buddha.
"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment," was the 'Blue Book's' April motto which was supposed to imbue the Dublin squad with a sense of certainty that they -- and everybody else in the camp -- knew exactly what they were doing.
Unfortunately for all of them, that wasn't immediately apparent in August 2008 when Tyrone filleted them in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Much has happened since then, including the decommissioning of the 'Blue Book' by a different management, but Gandhi's musings couldn't be more apt as Dublin prepare for another showdown with Tyrone on Sunday.
They head for Omagh with their NFL Division 1 title ambitions still intact, albeit requiring Cork to beat Mayo, but even that will be of no value unless Dublin beat Tyrone. With Tyrone needing to win to guarantee their Division 1 survival, this is about as big as it gets in league terms.
Mickey Harte described it as having a championship theme and also talked of the energetic atmosphere in the Tyrone dressing-room after the last-second win over Kerry last Saturday week.
All told then, it doesn't look like the ideal time to be playing Tyrone as they battle to maintain their Division 1 status, having come off a confidence-enhancing win over the All-Ireland champions. To add to Dublin's load, the game is in Omagh.
Still, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the prize and if Dublin could record their fifth win of the league it would put them in with a decent chance of reaching the league final.
That would be a real bonus, but even if they beat Tyrone and lose out to Mayo and Cork for a place in the final, it would still be a very satisfactory end to the campaign.
Conversely, a third successive defeat would be a significant setback, even if they were beaten by Cork, Galway and Tyrone, counties who themselves have lofty All-Ireland ambitions. No, the real downer for Dublin would be the sequence. If a team is to end up on eight points from the league, it's better to accumulate most of them in the second half of the series.
It leaves squad morale higher on the basis that they're improving, whereas a front-loaded points accumulation, as garnered by Dublin against Kerry, Derry, Mayo and Monaghan, creates room for doubt. Were we simply fitter than everybody else early on? Have others figured out our game plan? Where do we really stand going into the championship?
If Dublin lose to Tyrone, it will leave Pat Gilroy in a real quandary. He followed his instincts by changing the panel and the tactics quite dramatically in the wake of the demolition by Kerry last August and was delighted with the first four league results as the points stacked up.
However, the sequence ended abruptly when Dublin lost heavily to Cork. Another defeat followed against Galway, which, in many ways, was even more worrying for Gilroy.
Dublin should have been out of sight after 20 minutes, but weren't. Then, they were hit for 1-6 without reply and seemed in line for another trimming. However, they battled back to draw level and, with an extra man, they seemed certain to push on for a win, only to be outfought and outscored in the home stretch.
It was Dublin at their moody best and worst. Trouble was though, the latter outweighed the former, just as it has done outside of Leinster for so long.
The personnel was a whole lot different this time, yet the end result was the same, which has to be a concern for Gilroy. That's why Sunday's game is so crucial. If Dublin win, it will be a sign that the new-look side are ready to take their case into the championship. What's more, they will have earned the right to do it.
If they lose a third successive game, the big question arises: does Gilroy trust the new boys in the championship or will he drift back towards those who dominated Leinster since 2005, even if they weren't able to advance on that?
Harte believes that from a Tyrone perspective there's a near-championship dimension to Sunday's game.
It's even more pronounced for Dublin, who will have many of the essentials of their championship set-up decided by whether they pick up a fifth win from seven games and, possibly a league final place, or lose for the third successive game and watch the doubts mount up.