Thursday 26 April 2018

Ultra-reliable Dublin star quality can resist strengthened Red Hand

Click to enlarge graphic
Click to enlarge graphic
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

You could sense it with Tyrone all summer that the mood was different. Their Allianz League campaign may have tapered off disappointingly after an enterprising start, but the underlying sentiment remained positive.

It grew all the way through an Ulster championship where they weren't really tested before heading for Croke Park.

As luck would have it, the quarter-final was an extension of the Ulster campaign, with Armagh emerging from the qualifier pack.

They travelled with some confidence too, believing that the traditional rivalry between the counties, which intensified during some famous battles in the 2002-2005 period, would fortify their latest endeavours.

Tyrone supporters saw it differently, convinced that Mickey Harte's latest model would be far too slick for an Armagh team that had failed to get out of Division 3.

They were right. Tyrone eviscerated Armagh, beating them by 18 points, and then watched Dublin dispose of Monaghan with a routinely efficient performance.

Jim Gavin and his squad know that Tyrone will be different. When Monaghan play Dublin, they rarely look as if they believe they can win, whereas Tyrone always back themselves.

Mindset

Even when they aren't going particularly well, they still carry an aura. It doesn't win games but it helps the mindset.

That will be very important tomorrow. Dublin's exceptional championship record - only two defeats in seven seasons - gives them a psychological edge over most opposition.

Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone are exceptions, embracing the Dublin challenge as a meeting of equals. Dublin and Tyrone haven't met in the championship since 2011 but their League clashes since then show how they out the best of each other's competitive instincts. Their last five League meetings have resulted in two one-point wins for Dublin, an one-point win for Tyrone and two draws. No other opposition has such a good record against the Blues. The main question surrounding tomorrow's game is whether Dublin can unpick Tyrone's defensive locks, complete with their 'funnel back' systems which makes it very difficult to get close to goal.

In addition, they tackle aggressively, rendering it unwise to get caught in possession. Dublin are clever at avoiding that, using a change of pace to create openings. And if a pressurised opposition become ill-disciplined, Dean Rock will punish them off frees from all angles and distances.

That's one of the reasons, Dublin have to be fancied tomorrow. Their forwards look well-equipped to find a way through the limited space and, if the first string don't manage it, Jim Gavin has a lengthy list of alternatives.

Tyrone's bench is improving too but remains a long way behind Dublin's in terms of big-day experience.

Also, Niall Morgan, Tyrone's long range place-kicker is not nearly as reliable as Rock.

Despite all their plus points, Dublin have limitations too. Mayo have shown on several occasions that they are vulnerable if taken on at the right tempo and with relentless physicality.

Granted, Mayo haven't beaten Dublin but one suspects that if Tyrone worked themselves into such good positions they would complete the task. Since neither Dublin nor Tyrone has had a genuine test since the League ended in April, doubts persist about how they would cope with sustained pressure.

Dublin have managed it in recent seasons but that's no guarantee for the present or the future. Still, they have scaled greater heights than Tyrone over several seasons.

And while the Red Hand is certainly growing stronger, they need a win over one of their elite to fully make their case. Dublin have enough scoring capacity to keep their treble ambitions alive.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport