Saturday’s All-Ireland Quarter Final between Tyrone and Dublin defies explanation. It goes without saying that every Dublin person is over the moon with that performance. I’ll be honest, I didn’t give Dublin a prayer beforehand, but I have to hold my hands up and say I was wrong. I will come across as a cranky bollix being negative after Dublin’s best win in 15 years, but I’m still negative about a lot of things.
Let’s face it, Dublin were poxed to win. The bare statistic of 17 wides tells an obvious story. It was a match Tyrone should have won and it’s an All-Ireland Tyrone have left behind them. They threw it away and Dublin got every break going on Saturday.
Tyrone did all the things we thought they wouldn’t do. Kevin McStay on co-commentary must have been silently seething as his notion of Tyrone’s “hot zone” came crashing down around his ears. Poor shot selection was a surprising feature of their performance.
Dublin started well, doing all the things you wanted them to do – tackling like dogs, giving as good as they got physically and winning frees in scorable positions. The first 20 minutes were largely theirs and an 0-6 to 0-2 lead was as good as anybody could have hoped for. It was obvious from early on that it was going to be a dog fight, and in that regard Tyrone erred badly in the non-selection of Gerard Cavlan, even after four years off the inter county scene.
But 20 minutes in, as they routinely do, Tyrone got to grips with the game. The rest of the first half was played on their terms. Philip Jordan started to really come into it at this point and was Tyrone’s best player for the rest of the match, along with Brian McGuigan and Eoin Mulligan.
They could well have scored two goals in that second quarter period of domination. Martin Penrose replaced Sean Cavanagh at full forward and his caused problems for Rory O’Carroll. O’Carroll was caught out by a ball over the top which 9 times out of 10 would have been in Penrose’s arms and probably in the net, but a whistle from the Hill led Penrose to stop dead when the chance was very much on.
Then right on half time Brian McGuigan broke through O’Carroll’s challenge and fed Penrose who crashed the ball off the bar when clean through. Penrose should never have been moved back outfield for the second half.
McGuigan was back to his best throughout, holding it up, passing the ball like in his pomp in 2005, and even uncharacteristically driving through tackles as he did for Penrose’s second goal opportunity. Fans of football should take delight in that.
Dublin’s only point in the second quarter actually summed up the dominance Tyrone were enjoying, when Philly McMahon, seeing no options in front of him, kicked a monster from 50 metres.
At half time I didn’t hold out much hope. But all the while Dublin stuck in there. Saturday above all showed the new stickiness of the defence as a unit and I suppose it’s here that the management must take most credit. McStay’s “hot zone” was flooded most of the time and the Dublin defence often pressurised Tyrone into missing.
The negation of Cavanagh and the same player’s poor shot selection was the winning and losing of it. Along with Joe McMahon and Conor Gormley, his non performance hurt Tyrone badly.
Starting off at full forward, Cavanagh was contained very well by Rory O’Carroll and a succession of high balls into him produced nothing. After moving out to midfield after about 20 minutes, he was a virtual passenger for the rest of the first half. As the game opened up in the last quarter, Cavanagh, by now back up at full forward, picked up a lot more ball. But his succession of four or five wides mentally destroyed Tyrone. The disease spread to other players. Stephen O’Neill and the otherwise excellent Eoin Mulligan and Brian McGuigan also fell victim.
Down at the Railway End Dublin were taking their chances. Paul Flynn linked up well, Eamon Fennell made a decent contribution and Bernard Brogan provided the razor sharp edge.
Obviously the key moment was the goal. It was the only thing Eoghan O’Gara did all day and it was only way he was going to do anything. He literally did not have to move as Paul Flynn’s shot came back off the post. Maybe it proves that luck usually does even out over time. In that moment it evened out for August 14[sup]th[/sup], 2004 and Dara O’Cinneide’s identical goal into an empty Hill.
This time it was bedlam on the Hill as two people in front of me were sent crashing to the deck. They took it well. Probably the best moment since Paul Clarke’s goal against Meath in 1995. But it won’t be one that’s replayed over and over on TV screens. Producer, you are a tard.
A few moments later the cameras were absent again. I can’t even remember what happened but Keaney tapped over the free. When McAuley fisted over a few minutes later that was it. Ah lovely. The first time Dublin had beaten a proper contender since 1995 and the best day at Croke Park for years. Down’s victory over Kerry meant it had been that type of day from the start.
Two days later and the afterglow is still bright, but the time for realism is almost here. Dublin are carrying four or five passengers.
Eoghan O’Gara is a very, very, very poor man’s version of Ray Cosgrove. He has more arrogance but none of Cosgrove’s talent. He can’t pass, he can’t solo, he can’t shoot, he won’t close down opponents, he gets goals. He’ll go a long way. Until he gets found out, which can’t be very far away.
Barry Cahill is off form. He’s getting caught in possession too much and is a shadow of the player he was. Ross McConnell is just not a very good footballer. He was OK in this match, but no more. I have written before that Niall Corkery gets a nosebleed any time he gets a sight of the goal. I’ll now go further and say that he gets a nosebleed any time he gets the ball. He is by a distance the worst footballer I’ve ever seen play for Dublin. He can forage, he can crowd, he won’t win the ball, he’ll do fuck all else.
An off form and low on confidence Conal Keaney was on the field 20 seconds and had dispossessed an opponent. He did nothing else in his time on the pitch, but that was still more than Corkery did in 45 minutes. Even the limited but honest Flynn was miles better when he came on. There simply has to be a better option than Corkery.
I still don’t have that much confidence in Gilroy. He deserves a lot of credit for rallying the team and has ultimately made a fool of a lot of people, me included, but I’m still not convinced. He could well have been hung on a couple of decisions he made. Taking off Alan Brogan half way through the second half had no logic to it at all. He was tired? I’m sure they were all tired. Brogan’s speed and ability to carry the ball were stretching Tyrone. He had scored a point just a couple of minutes previously too and was getting the better of Conor Gormley. Dublin hadn’t much of an outlet to counter in the time he was off and Tyrone dominated possession.
David Henry’s substitution at half time was also a strange decision, considering Henry was picking up a lot of ball down the right flank and delivering quality ball for the most part.
Probably the most bizarre feature of the match was Dublin’s continued failure to pick up Tyrone’s short kickouts, a good portion of which were illegal as players often picked up possession from inside the “D”. When Stephen Cluxton went long into midfield Dublin generally controlled the aerial and breaking ball battle.
Given that fact it’s incredible how Dublin continually failed to mark up from Tyrone kickouts and thus force Pascal McConnell to go long. It meant that Dublin effectively conceded possession on every Tyrone kickout, at least 20-25 times overall. I’d love to know the last time when a team won a championship match when winning 0% of the opposition’s kickouts.
After all the negativity, it’s time for positivity.
Where Dublin have improved is in the quality of leadership, and in fairness to Gilroy some of the credit for this has to go to him and the confidence that he has placed in certain players. It starts with the full back line. Excellent against Wexford, the Meath game was a disaster for them. But it was obvious even in that match that Fitzsimons, O’Carroll and McMahon are all very capable footballers individually and it’s clear that a hell of a lot of work has been done in the meantime. Gilroy stuck with each of them and has been rewarded handsomely.
Fitzsimons had his hands full with Mulligan but made some very important interceptions. O’Carroll, despite being caught out twice by Penrose and McGuigan, had an excellent match in the face of a barrage of pressure. He’s still learning and still has weak points, particularly with balls over the top but at only 20 has plenty of time to learn and should be Dublin’s full back for the next 10 years. McMahon was the best of the lot. He has grown into his role incredibly well, reads a game beautifully and has taken on a real leadership role. And he has a hell of a shot.
Ger Brennan is another who has had a good season despite being faced with a rampant Brian McGuigan.
I’m in ecstacy with MDMA’s development as well. He’s another player who has improved massively and become a tremendous leader.
Bryan Cullen is now producing the form he is capable of. No real need to say anything about Bernard Brogan. What a player.
Cian O’Sullivan has definitely staked a claim to start the semi-final. He’s a better all round footballer than Nolan or an off form Cahill and carries a bigger attacking threat.
Cork are next up. City v city, and city v county all rolled into one. We are fated never to meet in a final, in the modern day at least. This is the fifth time we will have faced each other at this stage since 1974. History shows Dublin generally win. Cork have one championship win over Dublin in history, although I’m open to correction by any pedantic 1890’s historians on that. Maybe it’s only a very small part of the overall picture, but anybody who thinks history is irrelevant need only look at the Down-Kerry game to know otherwise.
Dublin won’t fear Cork at all and it’s Cork who now have everything to lose. Fail to win this All-Ireland with Kerry and Tyrone gone and they will never live it down.
Dublin will look to 1983 and two epic semi-finals which ended with them coming from nowhere to win Sam. Cork will look to 1989, which bears a lot of similarity to this year, when Dublin took Cork’s main rival Meath out to clear the way for them to win the All-Ireland after two final defeats. I will look to some epic banter with Kev, Turenne, Braz and Fenway over the next three weeks.