Wednesday 18 September 2019

'I think Diarmuid loves Dublin and we love him' - Jim Gavin on Connolly's return

Dublin 1-16  Tyrone 0-13

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin is greeted by Dublin manager Jim Gavin as he leaves the pitch after being shown a black card during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 2 Phase 3 match between Tyrone and Dublin at Healy Park in Omagh, Tyrone. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin is greeted by Dublin manager Jim Gavin as he leaves the pitch after being shown a black card during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 2 Phase 3 match between Tyrone and Dublin at Healy Park in Omagh, Tyrone. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Dublin's past, present and future was together all at once in Omagh as the champions found more in reserve to maintain their five-year unbeaten championship record.

Sean Bugler represented another strand of what seems an eternally bright future, whipping over three points in an enterprising first start at this level. He then had the presence of mind to place a fisted pass high enough across a crowded Tyrone goalmouth for Eoghan O'Gara to rise and bat to the net for the game's only goal five minutes into added time.

Bernard Brogan in an aerial duel with Tyrone’s Ciaran McLaughlin. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan in an aerial duel with Tyrone’s Ciaran McLaughlin. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

The present manifested everywhere, from Jonny Cooper, Davy Byrne and James McCarthy in the first half to Michael Darragh Macauley after the break, pillars that provided some structure.

It may be unfair to tag Bernard Brogan and O'Gara as Dublin's 'past' but that's how it felt when the final team declaration was made before throw-in, with six changes to the listed team, none of which were Brogan and O'Gara, even though they had been named on the original team list submitted.

Ahead of them was Diarmuid Connolly, back in the squad just three weeks having initially failed to get into the US where it was his intention to play football for the summer.

Connolly's introduction in Omagh was always expected but by starting him ahead of both Brogan - who has poured everything into recovering from a cruciate ligament tear over the last 18 months - and O'Gara, it was clear where they now stand in the pecking order. It's a rough measurement but, by this reckoning, they are, at best, 13th and 14th-choice forwards.

Dublin’s Michael Darragh Macauley showing his determination having come off the bench yesterday. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Michael Darragh Macauley showing his determination having come off the bench yesterday. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

To their credit, they left everything out there when they did come on in the 44th minute. Brogan forced the turnover in midfield that led to the O'Gara goal, having come to claim a kick-out just before it. He also scored a point that may have been a goal but for Liam Rafferty's 68th-minute block and set up another goal chance for Cormac Costello, having just come on.

Connolly made a solid return, operating at midfield in a playmaking role until a 69th-minute black card for taking down Tyrone's Ciaran McLaughlin. That edge in him clearly hasn't receded in his absence from this level.

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For a player who has only had 20 minutes of inter-county activity in 22 months, he looked sharp, winning kick-outs and delivering some of those trademark passes off the outside of the right boot.

Had it been a big call to start him ahead of experienced players who have been there all year?

Conall McCann of Tyrone in action against Seán Bugler of Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Conall McCann of Tyrone in action against Seán Bugler of Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"I think Diarmuid loves Dublin and we love him. Circumstances change for all players," said manager Jim Gavin afterwards.

The decision of both teams to effectively field second-strings ahead of next week's All-Ireland semi-finals once again raises credibility issues over the All-Ireland quarter-final round-robin series.

That there were two 'dead rubbers' on one of the biggest Sundays of the year as the GAA season nears a climax really does question the viability of it. Of course, neither manager saw it that way and with the games in six and seven days, it was an ideal opportunity to rest.

"You saw what it meant to play for Dublin," said Gavin afterwards. "A lot of fatigued, tired bodies inside there. They gave it everything. That's all you ask. We have such a difficult task each week not just picking the first 15, but the panel of 26. Today is a reflection of how difficult that is."

Michael Darragh MacAuley of Dublin in action against Rory Brennan of Tyrone. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Michael Darragh MacAuley of Dublin in action against Rory Brennan of Tyrone. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Two yellow cards, Connolly's black and just 21 frees awarded in total to both teams would suggest it was anything but attritional.

Harte also talked up the competitive nature, suggesting the 15,315 crowd had to have been entertained.

"There mightn't have been much at stake here but did people not enjoy that today? Did people not come along here in droves and enjoy that or were they bored out of their head watching that game? It was interesting for the people who were there, the players didn't show any sign of 'I wish we weren't here' or 'this is no big significant game'. They gave it all they had."

The presence of just a few more of Tyrone's stronger players could well have tipped the balance in their favour but that temptation was resisted in preference for rest and recuperation. It felt like they might have missed a trick here even though, in the greater scheme of things, it would only be a footnote.

"Obviously we have been on the road for five weeks and most of our players have played most of that game time, so it was an opportunity to give them a rest and to give the players who had been looking for more game time during that run - 'here's you chance, against the top team in the country'," Harte added.

Tyrone had chances. Conall McCann cracked a shot off the underside of the crossbar in the second half while Conor McAliskey also drew a fine save from Evan Comerford, Stephen Cluxton's impressive understudy.

Struggling

With Rory O'Carroll struggling, the Dublin full-back line looked a little exposed but Tyrone couldn't build fluency, with eight first-half wides.

Comerford's opposite number Benny Gallen was also called into action regularly, saving from Costello when Dublin had put pressure on to turn over one of his kick-outs.

Dublin led by 0-8 to 0-5 at the break and from the throw-in Connolly surged to set up Kevin McManamon to open a four-point lead.

Connolly's point off his left got the biggest cheer of the evening after Tyrone had halved the deficit to two.

Dublin did enough to see the game out and the late goal made it more comfortable than it was.

Scorers - Dublin: C Costello 0-6 (4fs), S Bugler 0-3, E O'Gara 1-0, P Small, K McManamon 0-2 each, D Connolly, B Brogan, P Andrews 0-1 each. Tyrone: C McAliskey 0-5 (2fs), K Coney (2fs), R Donnelly 0-2 each, C Grugan, N Sludden, C McCann, D McCurry all 0-1 each.

Dublin - E Comerford 8; D Byrne 7, R O'Carroll 5, A McGowan 6; E Lowndes 7, J Cooper 7, E Murchan 7; J McCarthy 7, D Connolly 7; R McDaid 6, K McManamon 6, S Bugler 8; P Small 7, P Andrews 6, C Costello 7. Subs: MD Macauley 7 for McCarthy (ht), P McMahon 6 for Byrne (ht), B Brogan 7 for Small (44), E O'Gara 6 for Cooper (44), C O'Connor 6 for O'Carroll 55, P O Cofaigh-Byrne for Costello (68), D Connolly not replaced after black card.

Tyrone - B Gallen 7; C McLaughlin 6, P Hampsey 7, L Rafferty 6; T McCann 6, A McRory 5, M Cassidy 7; B McDonnell 6, D McClure 6; R Donnelly 7, K Coney 6, C Grugan 5; D Mulgrew 7, C McAliskey 7, C McCann 6. Subs: HP McGeary 6 for Hampsey (ht), R Brennan 6 for Cassidy, B Kennedy 7 for Donnelly (39), D McCurry 7 for C McCann (56), M McKernan 6 for T McCann (56), N Sludden for Mulgrew (67).

Referee - J McQuillan (Cavan).

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