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Comment: Dublin's football is never boring but their dominance is - it's no surprise that football fans are fed up


The empty spaces in the Hogan Stand tell their own story as Dublin line up to meet President Michael D Higgins on Saturday. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The empty spaces in the Hogan Stand tell their own story as Dublin line up to meet President Michael D Higgins on Saturday. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The empty spaces in the Hogan Stand tell their own story as Dublin line up to meet President Michael D Higgins on Saturday. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Tyrone have 70 minutes to save the Championship. We're counting on them. Not because we believe in Tyrone, but because there's no choice.

The normal feeling in the run-up to an All-Ireland football final is one of anticipation. This year the predominant emotion will be dread. If Tyrone don't give Dublin a decent contest, cynicism about the football Championship will reach an all-time high. Who, Dubs fans apart, can look forward to 2019 if Jim Gavin's men wipe the floor with the challengers?

At the start of the season neutrals hoped someone might break the monotony and prevent a Dublin four-in-a row. Such outlandish dreams disappeared a long time ago. Nobody expects Tyrone to beat the Dubs in the final. Everyone will be happy if they just make a game of it. That's how little we've come to expect from this year's Championship.

Tyrone are unlikely saviours. Unlikely and unlovely. Yesterday against Monaghan their sledging, diving, playacting, pulling, dragging, snarling, cribbing side was much in evidence. They could not be more different from Dublin, a skilful, athletic, sporting, attractive, exhilarating marvel of a team. Yet it's Tyrone who'll have the neutrals behind them in three weeks' time.

That's because almost everyone is fed up with Dublin's dominance, including, it appears, quite a few Dubs. Saturday's attendance of 54,716 was the lowest for a semi-final involving Dublin since their 1994 victory over Leitrim.

When you consider that last year's semi against Tyrone drew a full house of 82,000, as did the Saturday evening replay against Mayo in 2015, this is an extraordinary decline. No-one would have predicted such a figure. But foregone conclusions ultimately have a limited appeal.

The problem is not just that the champions are going for four in a row, it's also that they haven't been seriously tested this year.

Exacerbating the sense of doom and gloom is the relative youth of this year's Dublin side. The average age of their 14 outfield starters against Galway was just over 25. Vaclav Havel wrote that the worst thing about living under a dictatorship was not the everyday indignities, but the sense that they'd go on forever. The Dublin regime displays no inclinations towards perestroika.

Should the current situation continue for another couple of years the life will be sucked out of the Championship completely.

Dublin hegemony isn't football's only problem. That yesterday's semi-final was the first in Croke Park to dip under the 50,000 attendance mark since Kerry played Cork in 2008 indicates a more general malaise. Today's Championship gives supporters the worst of both worlds. It is both uncompetitive and uninspiring.

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For all the honest effort on show, the Tyrone-Monaghan game was a microcosm of the modern game's faults. Too often it was dull, slow-moving and needlessly convoluted as both teams heaped men behind the ball and forwards found themselves outnumbered and isolated.

There was a bitter irony about Galway's defeat on Saturday. Probably the dullest team in Ireland this year, Galway have justified their ultra-cautious approach on pragmatic grounds. Yet on Saturday the Tribesmen's beloved defensive system disintegrated like a snowman stuck next to a radiator. They'd sold their soul for nothing. The defensive approach that's de rigueur these days may actually be the worst possible preparation for playing Dublin.

They won't wait for you to funnel back and get the defence set up, they won't take the ball into contact or kick it away in a panic if they can't get a shot off and they won't let you jog up to halfway unchallenged.

Instead they'll attack you at pace, work the ball around intelligently till they find a chink in your armour and press the kick-outs till your keeper suffers a nervous breakdown. The team that eventually beats Dublin will be a team that plays like Dublin.

Not long ago the contemporary game was defended on the grounds that its critics were old fuddy duddies who weren't sophisticated enough to appreciate the subtle beauties of football's evolution. That argument seems downright quaint now there's general agreement about the awfulness of this year's Championship.

In the movie The Social Network, the ex-girlfriend of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg tells him: "You're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. That won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole." So it goes with Gaelic football. The public don't dislike it because it's changed, they dislike it because it's boring. Except when Dublin play. Their football is never boring; but their dominance is.

Yesterday Monaghan enjoyed the majority of possession, with Tyrone happy to concede territory, soak up punishment and play on the counter.

If they adopt the same approach in the final, it'll be carnage. The only counter-attacking they'll be doing will be from their own kick-outs.

In the last few years Mayo have shown up like the Seventh Cavalry in the final and put lipstick on this pig of a Championship by pushing Dublin to the limit. Can Tyrone do the same thing? Comparing them against Monaghan to Mayo against Kerry last year, the answer has to be no.

The argument that Mickey Harte's team had a lot left in the tank took a substantial knock in a match where their victory owed a good deal to dubious decisions by ref Anthony Nolan. All the same, Tyrone are charged with representing the resistance against The Empire on September 2.

In the classic Western Rio Bravo, John Wayne's buddy observes gloomily: "A game-legged old man and a drunk. That's all you got?" The Duke replies "that's WHAT I've got", and his team wins a surprise victory against the bad guys.

Tyrone are what we've got. And all we've got. Let's hope for a showdown rather than a turkey shoot.

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