Friday 23 February 2018

Would Tyrone '05 beat Jim Gavin's Dublin? - we match up the sides head-to-head

Frank Roche

Frank Roche

SEÁN CAVANAGH couldn’t help but smile when asked, earlier this week, if Tyrone in their pomp would have unseated the all-conquering Dubs of today.

He suggested that Tyrone, circa 2005, were the best-equipped to attempt it. The recently retired Red Hand legend did not, however, make any bold declarations about the final outcome.

And, of course, no one can answer that conundrum because Tyrone ’05 versus Dublin ’18 will never meet, not even in a parallel universe.

Jim Gavin’s three-in-a-row champions are closing in on Mick O’Dwyer’s Kerry of the ’70s and ’80s, who won eight All-Irelands in a golden 12-season span. The Dubs of this decade have won five, and four of the last five under Gavin … but they haven’t stopped yet.

Here, though, is the intriguing caveat. While Dublin have consistently held the whip hand over their two chief rivals (Kerry and, by a perennial whisker, Mayo)  they have yet to face a team as multi-talented or as tactically astute as the Tyrone of the noughties.

“I believe the best Tyrone team we had was 2005,” says Cavanagh, harking back to a marathon 10-game campaign that included a losing two-match Ulster final saga with Armagh, an epic two-game duel with Dublin, a titanic semi-final revenge mission against Armagh and then a 1-16 to 2-10 triumph over Kerry in the final.

“When you look back at the individuals we had and the age profile at that stage, I think that team would take an awful lot of stopping,” he expands. “So if I was to pick one team to go up against them (Dublin) I’d love to pick that team and throw them in and see how Ricey gets on and how Gormley gets on! You’d need a good referee that day!”

For the purposes of this comparison, we’ve matched up the 15 Tyrone players who started the ’05 final against the 15 Dubs who started against Mayo last September.

Marking these individual head-to-heads, and factoring in four tie-breaks where each team earns half a point, we make it a marginal victory for the Dubs – 8-7. It’s that close.

What ultimately swings it, more emphatically, is Dublin’s gilt-edged bench.

It’s telling that Harte’s three switches in the ’05 decider included two for the withdrawal and reintroduction of his veteran talisman, Peter Canavan.

Meanwhile, Gavin could introduce three multiple All Star winners (Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan) against Mayo; plus the game’s greatest super-sub (Kevin McManamon); all the while holding a former Footballer of the Year (Michael Darragh Macauley) in reserve.

Case closed.

The Dubs have it.

Tyrone ... 7 Dublin ... 8

Pachal McConnell v Stephen Cluxton

McConnell was a monster of a 'keeper but this is still no contest. It must be Cluxton for his unwavering devotion to being the best; for his razor-sharp reflexes, his agenda-setting restarts, his goalmouth authority, his leadership, his sheer bloody-minded longevity.

Advantage: Dublin

Michael McGee v Dean Rock

One of Tyrone's unsung heroes, with a far lower profile than his defensive colleagues. Leaving aside Rock's pivotal placed-ball role, we fancy he's shade this duel... certainly on the evidence of last year's second half tour de force against Mayo.

Advantage: Dublin

Joe McMahon v Eoghan O'Gara

Big Joe is the obvious Tyrone candidate to try and suppress O'Gara's bulldozing physicality. The Dublin target man was a left-field inclusion last September and it really didn't work out; would probably find a 22-year-old McMahon a hard nut to crack.

Advantage: Tyrone

Ryan McMenamin v Paul Mannion

Given Mannion's electrifying 2017 form, it's a safe bet that Ricey would be put on his case. For all his athleticism, Tyrone's doctor of the dark arts would struggle to match Mannion's pace.. but, in his noughties pomp, he invariably found a way to stifle the best.

Advantage: Tie

Davy Harte v Ciaran Kilkenny

Harte's first summer as a regular and didn't hit his peak until his second All-Ireland, in '08. Mickey's nephew excelled at sniping points on the break... but would he have the defensive resilience to stick purely to the job of stifling Dublin's premier link-man?

Advantage: Dublin

Conor Gormley v Con O'Callaghan

Perhaps the most fascinating duel of all. Gormley, in his mid-20s, was a fearsome proposition - a rock on which many forwards perished, who could play a bit too. But O'Callaghan never betrays a whiff of fear and you'd fancy him to conjure up a goal from nothing.

Advantage: Tie

Philip Jordan v Paddy Andrews

Jordan was a Rolls Royce football who could defence when needed and kick sublime points on the counter. Wing-forward isn't Andrews' best position but he's nothing if not versatile; and usually he can be trusted to make early scoreboard incisions.

Advantage: Tyrone

Sean Cavanagh v James McCarthy

A true heavyweight contest. A five-time All Star, Cavanagh won his third consecutive midfield award in '05... but McCarthy is Dublin's Mr Consistent who soared to a new level upon making last year's midfield switch. A high-scoring stalemate.

Advantage: Tie

Enda McGinley v Brian Fenton

McGinley was a key cog in '05 Tyrone's middle eight if not quite at the stellar level reached in '08. As Kildare can testify, Fenton is the game's premier midfielder. He has the height, hands, athleticism, game intelligence- and a new-found lust for scoring.

Advantage: Dublin

Brian Dooher v John Small

Small has the strength, speed and aggression to ruffle the best wing forwards (ask Peter Harte)... but this would be the ultimate challenge. Dooher's duracell-powered engine and big match nerve made him indispensable during Tyrone's glory years.

Advantage: Tyrone

Brian McGuigan v Cian O'Sullivan

No more than  Gormely v O'Callaghan on the opposing '40', this match-up alone would be worth the ticket price. O'Sullivan pace and intelligence combine to create the prince of sweepers; yet even he would be stretched by McGuigan's playmaking genius.

Advantage: Tie

Ryan Mellon v Jack McCaffrey

The least famous member of a celebrated attack; Mellon still kicked 0-2 in the '05 final. But could he live with jet-heeled Jack? You can't but wonder if Dublin might have won more convincingly last September if McCaffrey's ACL hadn't snapped so early.

Advantage: Dublin

Peter Canavan v Jonny Cooper

The '05 All-Ireland was Canavan's glorious, goalscoring swansong. He was 34 then and past his truly sublime best... Cooper strikes us as the best-equipped Dub to deny him the time and space to thrive. And yet how can you vote against Peter the Great?

Advantage: Tyrone

Stephen O'Neill v Mick Fitzsimons

Fitzsimons is the most likely fit because he's so persistently sticky and positionally disciplined. But it's still a poisoned chalice. O'Neill, whose left boot was more akin to a wizard's wand, as in his Footballer of the Year pomp in '05.

Advantage: Tyrone

Owen Mulligan v Philly McMahon

Ah, remember that outrageous goal, a trail of mesmerised Dubs left in Mugsy's dummy-selling wake? This was Mulligan's standout year... but out hunch is that if Philly was on his case during that drawn All-Ireland quarter-final. he'd never have made it that far.

Advantage: Dublin

The Substitutes Bench

Our first 15 scorecard suggests that this virtual reality All-Ireland would go down to the wire... but when you compare the two respective benches, and you see Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, Kevin McManamon, Bernard Brogan, Michael Darragh Macauley etc. queueing up for a match-turning cameo, it becomes obvious to us that Dublin would carry the day.

Advantage: Dublin

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