Colm O'Rourke: 'Nature of the beasts ensures Tyrone v Dublin will be no challenge game'
There seems to be a fair bit of debate about how competitive today's game between Tyrone and Dublin will be. If you put out a group of young lads to play a friendly match against each other it will usually start like that but normally finishes as something else entirely. Even in the youngest there is an urge to be the best. Only losers accept losing.
It reminds me of the story of the frog and the scorpion. The scorpion wanted to get across the river and promised the frog that if he carried him safely over on his back then he would not sting him. The deal was reached and the frog was nearly at the far side when the scorpion stung him, it was death by the sting for the frog and by drowning for the scorpion. Perplexed by this ultimate betrayal the frog asked the scorpion why he did it. Before going under the scorpion told the frog, he could not help himself, "it is the nature of the beast".
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The same applies to both Dublin and Tyrone. Put them out in a challenge match and by the third quarter any friendliness will give way to a feisty contest. It is the nature of the beast.
Some might think Tyrone's view will be that they only have to beat Dublin once in this year's championship and it is not today. The same applied last year of course and Tyrone did not win the Super 8 match or the All-Ireland final. So if Tyrone can't win this one, will any of their players seriously believe there will be a day in the near future when they can topple the champions?
Despite the team they have named, Dublin are unlikely to give Tyrone, or anyone else for that matter, a free pass. They want to win all their games. They will also look down the road and see that the easier semi-final is likely to be next Saturday, as it avoids the Kingdom. Kerry can take their place in the queue along with everyone else - that is what the All-Ireland final is for.
Speculation is rife about what team Dublin will actually put out today. Will all those frontliners named on the bench remain there? You can be sure all their main men will want to play despite the likelihood of another bigger game in six days.
What is all the rush with these fixtures? This lark of playing the All-Ireland finals in both football and hurling earlier is horse manure. After qualifying for the All-Ireland semi-finals teams should have at least two weeks to prepare. This notion that it is benefitting clubs is more of that manure. The two hurling semi-finals should be on consecutive Sundays and the football should be the same. Shoehorning everything into one weekend is only destroying the potential publicity value involved.
No matter what team Dublin puts out today, or any day, it will be either brilliant or excellent. If there are injury concerns then those players won't be risked but every other name will be thrown into the pot. Including even a certain Diarmuid Connolly. The decision by Jim Gavin to recall him came from left field and took us all by surprise - especially me. Remember, Dublin won the easiest of their four All-Irelands last year without any involvement from Connolly.
There are various reasons for players going to America, but sometimes getting away for a while is good for body, soul and head. That is all fine and dandy.
By trying to go this year it meant Connolly either had no loyalty to Dublin or felt that there was no chance of a recall from Gavin. So it is surprising he is back. Having said all that, I would certainly have him on my team if he was available, even if he took a bit of handling. The dilemma now for the Dublin management is deciding if there is much point having a brilliantly gifted individual on the panel and not using him. There are a lot of other players who are waiting patiently on the subs' bench for the call, players who have worked hard to get there while Connolly was thinking of a different lifestyle in Boston.
The internal discipline in the Dublin panel is outstanding and not a word whether good, bad or indifferent gets out. The players must have signed the oath of omerta with their own blood and, of course, winning covers a multitude of cracks.
Yet defeat changes the dynamic. In short, Jim Gavin has in one way either given a hostage to fortune or pulled off a master stroke. We will soon know if Machiavelli was right - does the end justify the means? Would Kevin McManamon, Cormac Costello or Eric Lowndes have been happy to see Connolly go on in front of them for the greater glory of Dublin? Or Paddy Small or Paddy Andrews? You won't get a holiday to the Seychellles for answering that players only think of themselves when they are sitting on the bench.
Mickey Harte will want to win too. Maybe meeting Kerry in the semi-final would be quite acceptable to him on the basis of his big-game record against the Kingdom, but everyone wants to beat the Dubs, or at least push them right down to the wire. Otherwise the race for Sam is already over.
Harte knows Tyrone were not nearly good enough last year so this gives them a chance to road test their new-look system with more than one forward up. At times, though, 'new' Tyrone this year, after the Donegal mauling, was very like 'old' Tyrone. Against Cork in Croke Park the team only functioned really effectively in the second half when Mattie Donnelly moved farther forward to help Cathal McShane. In fairness to McShane, he has been excellent and could give Dublin's defence their fill of it on the big day, if he is not completely isolated.
In many respects Harte has nothing to lose and the team announced confirms that he feels he can try any combination of personnel and tactics without risk. Most have written off this game from a Tyrone point of view so he has a certain degree of freedom.
The old Tyrone tactic of isolating an inside forward and moving the ball slowly through the lines did not work last year and won't work this year or next either. They could lay down a marker by putting two big men up front and kicking in more ball than usual. It worked in the League when they shocked Dublin in Croke Park, this after Niall Sludden was sent off. So the template is there even if Dublin then and now are night and day.
But the more I see of Tyrone the less convinced I am of their potential to win an All-Ireland. They are not as mobile as Dublin, are not as skilful and have nobody around midfield in the same class as Howard, Fenton or Kilkenny. The three best Tyrone players are Peter Harte, and the two mentioned already - McShane and Donnelly. Not too many more have grabbed the baton since last year and improved rapidly.
There may be a perception today that there will be a bit of shadow boxing going on in this game. Yet Dublin players are too highly motivated, personally and collectively, to put on the handbrake. They are also playing for their places on the team and the subs' bench for the semi-final so they will set out to sting Tyrone early and often. It is the nature of the beast I suppose.
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