Saturday 21 April 2018

We were looking for the complete performance - we got it: McMahon

Dublin’s Philly McMahon (far right), Mick Fitzsimons and Brian Fenton ensure there’s no way through for Mattie Donnelly. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Philly McMahon (far right), Mick Fitzsimons and Brian Fenton ensure there’s no way through for Mattie Donnelly. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

A simple mantra but not even Dublin could have conceived that its execution would have been engineered with such ease.

"Control the play," Cian O'Sullivan tells us.

These were the final words which tumbled around the brains of the most garlanded selection of footballers this country may have ever seen as they commenced battle.

They may have lost the toss, the first throw-up, and then the first play of the game but that was the limit of their bleeding.

Few expected Tyrone to succumb without firing a shot.

They detached from the parade prematurely, deigning not to be submerged by howls from the Hill; they then proceeded to detach themselves entirely from the contest, too.

Ciaran Kilkenny's early spill, the roar of lusty defiance from Sean Cavanagh in his ear before sauntering up-field to put his side ahead from an opening free.

Mere momentary defiance from a side whose system and manager remain unfit for modern purpose but, perhaps, may continue to exist because football is so weak now they can get this far by using them.

Moments later, when Kilkenny intercepted Niall Sludden's pass to Sean's brother, Colm, Tyrone's reason for existence had been exposed as a sham.

When Con O'Callaghan swivelled, you swore even the traffic turned on the North Strand Road.

"We're allowed to play with freedom within the system," he says. "Jim says, 'Once you get those opportunities, just go for it.'"

He did so, all but seizing Tyrone by the throat; they never relented. It looked like they had it easy because they made it so hard for Tyrone.

"Work-rate gets you performance," adds O'Callaghan, already anointed young footballer of the year but performing on and off the field like the veterans, Bernard Brogan amongst them, who he consigns to the bench.

From that moment on, Dublin did as their manager instructed.

"We knew our game-plan," adds O'Sullivan of an approach they had slightly tweaked since last year when faced by blanket defences, even if it had yet to work as well this summer as they would have liked.

The opening 35 minutes here, though, was as near to perfection as it could have been, within the confines of a suffocating opposition who had no interest in attack.

"All year we were looking for the complete performance," offers Philly McMahon. "We got that in the first-half and it was about continuing it in the second-half, with guys coming off the bench and that showed what a great squad we have."

Gavin wouldn't publicly concede it but his side, masterly in the art of attack as everyone knows, were also able to beat Tyrone at their own defensive game.

"The massed defence has been there for a while now and it is all about patience that we need to do today," adds McMcMahon.

Control was wrought from preparation and predicated upon hard work; Dublin make things look so easy because they work so hard at it.

"We targeted high work-rate from the first minute, we got the goal and that gave us the lead," proffers Mick Fitzsimons.

"We got a lot of turnovers and it was great from the full-back line seeing forwards turning over the ball."

This team are so good because they are all so adept in all areas - tackling, shooting, blocking, running, passing.

Even when forced to play a game that insults their natural instinct for self-expression, they can intelligently adapt their style to do just that, varying the tempo and notching hand-passing figures stretching into the several hundreds.

"We strived to stay in control for the full expanse of the game," says Gavin.

"We knew if we gave them that space they would punish us which they did at times. I'm happy with the performance over the full 70 minutes."

Asked if he ever felt comfortable, he dead-panned an answer but those who knew this team and the nature of their rivalry with Tyrone might see a little more beyond the words.

"I never feel comfortable playing Tyrone."

Now Mayo await. A different discomfort.

"This time last year we turned up to an All-Ireland final and didn't perform," Gavin warns.

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