DUBLIN 2-13 TYRONE 1-11
IT may only have been the first Saturday in February but Dublin produced another demonstration of their pre-eminence in Omagh tonight.
The 2-13 to 1-11 scoreline in their victory over Mickey Harte’s team was decent short-hand for how it went.
On a dank, windy evening in Healy Park, Dublin absorbed the loss of Niall Scully to a red card early in the second half, kept Tyrone scoreless for all of 28 minutes despite their numerical disadvantage and in dramatic contrast with the home team, gave an exhibition in efficiency, kicking only two wides in the swirling wind and none in that second half.
It had been anticipated that Dublin might be vulnerable last night.
Of the seven League and Championship games they have lost under Jim Gavin in his wildly successful reign so far, five have come before St. Patrick’s Day.
Their League programme this year takes in each of the other three 2017 All-Ireland semi-finalists; Tyrone, Mayo and Kerry, before the second week of March.
And habitually, Tyrone have been identified as the team most stylistically equipped to discommode Dublin.
In their four League meetings prior to last night’s, the teams had shared two draws and one single point victory each.
Yet the spectre of last August’s 12-point Dublin victory in the All-Ireland semi-final hung heavily over this fixture.
That Dublin started their League with an almost nonchalant win over Kildare while Tyrone contrived to lose by four points to newly promoted Galway in a game in which they scored just three points from play and finished with 12 men on the pitch, hadn’t suggested any bridging of the chasm.
Harte’s team was notable for the inclusions of Lee Brennan, the Trillick forward who won an All-Ireland Under 21 title in 2015 but, to much curiosity from the locals, has been mostly ignored by the Tyrone manager.
His performance last night, in which Brennan kicked 0-6 (3f), suggested the locals had a point.
For Dublin, Jim Gavin went with 11 of the starting team from last year’s semi-final.
They started sluggishly but almost instinctively, found a way to impose their will.
Tyrone hit the front from the throw-in, with Cathal McShane scoring after just 13 seconds, and played early on with just Brennan and Connor McAliskey occupying the opposition half when Dublin attacked.
Dublin meanwhile, pressed high up on Tyrone but they paid a hefty price for their ambition.
After just five minutes, having turned Dublin over in the middle of the pitch, McAliskey instinctively delayed a shot just long enough to spot the run of McShane, who steadied himself to slide a shot into the corner of Stephen Cluxton’s net.
They went four points up after 15 minutes and only for six wides in that period, should have been further up.
McAliskey and Brennan thrived in the corners, sweeping on to some of the more thoughtful delivery from deep.
Interestingly, Dublin rotated Ciarán Kilkenny in on top of the square, the position in which he made his name as an underage forward of prodigious talents and prolific offerings.
As February experiments go, Dublin’s worked a charm.
After 23 minutes, a long Brian Fenton free found Kilkenny in this more advanced posting and the Castleknock man held off Aidan McCrory to volley left-footed past Niall Morgan.
That was just Kilkenny’s second goal for Dublin but almost had a third soon after when he rattled the crossbar.
What looked like a smartly-conceived set piece move saw James McCarthy square the ball to Brian Howard, who fed Kilkenny but his shot erred on the high side.
The half wasn’t without its hostility either.
Peter Harte and John Small were both booked for their parts in an altercation can proceeded to attract another dozen players.
The same double censure was dished out by Maurice Deegan to Niall Scully and Mattie Donnelly just before half-time.
Indeed with Tyrone leading by 1-7 to 1-5 at the break, a scuffle appeared to break out as the teams retreated to the dressing-room.
With the wind at their backs, Dublin scored the first three points of the half but the dismissal of Scully for a second yellow card after 48 minutes added a greater degree of difficulty to their task.
Largely though, Tyrone couldn’t capitalise.
They kicked seven wides before Niall Sludden kicked their first score of the second half after 28 exhausting, frustrating minutes.
Immediately, Dublin replied through substitute Colm Basquel and the Ballyboden forward made a deep imprint in his short time on the pitch.
After kicking two consecutive scores to quench any hope of a Tyrone comeback, he intercepted an intended return pass from Pádraig Hampsey to Morgan from a Tyrone kick-out.
From there he fed Eoghan O’Gara, who rammed home a goal with his first touch.
Basquel got his third from a free soon after, another sign of Dublin’s awesome strength in depth on the night they issued another fairly blunt reality check to an All-Ireland rival.
SCORERS – Dublin: C Kilkenny 1-2, D Rock 0-4 (3f), C Basquel 0-3 (1f), E O’Gara 1-0, K McManamon 0-2, J McCarthy, B Fenton 0-1 each, Tyrone: L Brennan 0-6 (3f), C McAliskey 0-2, C McShane 1-1, N Sludden, P Harte 0-1.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; P McMahon, M Fitzsimons, D Daly; J McCarthy, J Cooper, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; N Scully, C Kilkenny, B Howard; K McManamon, P Mannion, D Rock. Subs: D Byrne for Small (46), P Andrews for McManamon (50), C Basquel for Mannion (61), E O’Gara for Rock (65), S Carthy for McCarthy (68), E Lowndes for Fenton (69)
TYRONE: N Morgan; P Hampsey, C McCarron, HP MGeary; T McCann, A McCrory, C McLaughlin; D McClure, C McShane; M Donnelly, N Sludden, R Donnelly; C McAliskey, L Brennan, P Harte. Subs: M McKernan for HP McGeary (22), R McNamee for McCrory (h-t), C McCann for McClure (49), R McNabb for McLaughlin (55), F Burns for R Donnelly (55), M Bradley for T McCann (63).
REF: M Deegan (Laois)