Sunday 19 November 2017

Red letter day for rejuvenated Blues

Dublin 1-15
Tyrone 0-13

THIS was the most significant and successful day for Dublin football since the 1995 All-Ireland final.

Tyrone were the victims then too -- losing by a point after a late refereeing decision which seemed to have delivered the equaliser went against them -- but there were no such dramatics at Croke Park on Saturday, as Dublin saw out stoppage time in a comfort zone nobody would have thought possible in advance of an All-Ireland quarter-final for which they were 9/4 outsiders.

That even included Dublin manager, Pat Gilroy who -- in a typical example of the honest approach he has brought to a difficult job -- admitted that he had thought this might be a challenge too far for his new team.

"It wouldn't have been our expectation that we would beat one of the top three (Kerry, Tyrone, Cork) this year. That's being honest. We thought that there would be a bit of a gap there because we had so many new guys. We expected a big performance and to make progress towards closing the gap," he said.

Dublin did a whole lot more than merely closing the gap. They wiped it out altogether with a super display of courage, commitment and an unyielding determination not to yield against opposition with a deserved reputation for grinding out results in demanding circumstances.

However, for the second time in four seasons, Tyrone found that a smooth passage through Ulster left them ill-prepared for the next step. Mickey Harte branded it as "disgraceful" that provincial champions who lose quarter-finals have no second chance whereas everybody else has, an argument that's based on unquestionable logic that somehow seems to have eluded GAA Congress delegates when they discussed the issue.

Still, that's a broader issue, totally unrelated to the details of a game which thrilled the 62,749 crowd as Dublin powered into the semi-final for the first time since 2007. They did it with a mixture of energy and power, decorated with some fine individual contributions which left Tyrone with a puzzle they couldn't solve.

Dublin out-scored their opponents by 1-4 to 0-2 in the final 18 minutes, the goal coming in the 65th minute when Eoghan O'Gara smacked a re-bound to the Tyrone net. O'Gara typifies this new Dublin team which Gilroy has constructed through sheer necessity, after its predecessor came up so embarrassingly short in last year's quarter-final against Kerry.

O'Gara is strong, direct and unpredictable, presenting a dimension which Dublin have lacked for quite some time. All that's missing from his game now is experience and subtlety, qualities which will develop over time. When they do, he will be quite the full-forward package.

Bernard Brogan -- who kicked nine points (0-4 from play) and is now the leading contender for Footballer of the Year -- had another outstanding day while further back, midfielder Michael Darragh Macauley, Ger Brennan, Philip McMahon, Rory O'Carroll and goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton all had highly productive outings.


So too had subs Paul Flynn, Cian O'Sullivan and Eamon Fennell. Indeed, the overall strength of the Dublin panel was underlined by the fact that Kevin McManamon, their second highest scorer this year, wasn't used.

Tyrone's back-up forces weren't as influential. Stephen O'Neill, the unlucky victim of various injuries for so much of his career, came on for the second half but found no time or space to impose his skills on a frantic game where Dublin's defensive toil was a major influence.

It was a large contributor to Tyrone's final tally of 17 wides (Dublin hit nine) as the attackers were shooting under immense pressure amid the heavy traffic generated by a tigerish defence.

Sean Cavanagh, normally so reliable for a few long-range points, Martin Penrose and O'Neill all found it impossible to make progress in a high-tempo second half, where Tyrone gradually lost control as Dublin imposed themselves. Brian Dooher, whose driving runs have been part of Tyrone's success story for so long, made no real impact while Brian McGuigan, still smart and creative, just couldn't find the room to express himself.

Still, it looked as if Tyrone had made a decisive break when Owen Mulligan, by a distance their best forward, kicked a point to put them 0-10 to 0-8 ahead after 41 minutes. It meant that Tyrone, who had trailed by 0-6 to 0-2 after 22 minutes, had won the intervening period by 0-8 to 0-2 and appeared to have settled into the familiar routine which delivered so much for them since 2003.

Their advantage should have been greater as Penrose missed a glorious goal opportunity just before half time when his shot thudded off the crossbar. Still, having trailed by four points after an uncertain opening 22 minutes, Tyrone were happy to take a one-point lead (0-8 to 0-7) into the half-time break.

They seemed well on course to reach the semi-final when they moved two points clear six minutes into the second half but, unlike previous years where Dublin melted on the home stretch, this was a case of the underdogs finding sharp new teeth and gnawing their way through every barrier.

It was level on 0-13 each after 64 minutes but O'Gara's goal sent the game veering in Dublin's direction and while Tyrone tried to use their experience to manufacture a goal late on, there was no way through a solid defence. In fact, it was Dublin who added two late points to seal a victory which has radically altered their season.

Gilroy's decision to dismantle the set-up which failed last year has been vindicated in a manner which nobody would have thought possible after Dublin leaked five goals against Meath in late June.

As for Tyrone, they face a re-building operation. Relegated to Division 2 -- ironically after losing to Dublin in the NFL last round -- their Ulster title success provides little consolation against the reality that they failed to match their rivals' intensity over the crucial closing minutes on Saturday.

That's not an experience with which Tyrone are familiar, leaving Mickey Harte facing a major overhaul as he looks ahead to 2011. As for Dublin, they're in the All-Ireland semi-final and looking very much like an outfit with an exciting future.

Scorers -- Dublin: B Brogan 0-9 (0-5f), E O'Gara 1-0, B Cullen, P McMahon, S Cluxton (0-1 '45'), A Brogan, M Macauley, C Keaney (0-1f) 0-1 each. Tyrone: M Penrose (0-4f), O Mulligan (0-2f), 0-5 each, P Jordan 0-2, B McGuigan 0-1.

Dublin -- S Cluxton 8; M Fitzsimons 6, R O'Carroll 8, P McMahon 7; K Nolan 7, G Brennan 7, B Cahill 6; M Macauley 8, R McConnell 7; N Corkery 6, A Brogan 7, B Cullen 7; D Henry 7, E O'Gara 7, B Brogan 9. Subs: P Flynn 8 for Henry (ht), C O'Sullivan 7 for Cahill (ht), E Fennell 7 for Corkery (42), C Keaney 6 for A Brogan (50), A Brogan for Cullen (68).

Tyrone -- P McConnell 7; C McCarron 5, Justin McMahon 7, R McMenamin 6; D Harte 5, C Gormley 6, P Jordan 8; C Cavanagh 6, K Hughes 5; B Dooher 5, B McGuigan 7, Joe McMahon 6; M Penrose 6, S Cavanagh 6, O Mulligan 8. Subs: D Carlin 7 for McCarron (21), S O'Neill 5 for D Harte (ht), E McGinley 6 for Hughes (61), P Harte 6 for Penrose (64).

Ref -- D Coldrick (Meath)

Irish Independent

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