Red Hands of Tyrone trying to stop Dublin juggernaut - again
Allianz Football League Division One, round two: Dublin v Tyrone (Croke Park, 7pm tonight)
DUBLIN’S favoured Japanese motor manufacturer may not make juggernauts but the hosts have become almost an unstoppable force at Croke Park.
Home advantage tends not to be all it’s talked up to be in the League, with only Tyrone making it count in the top two divisions on the opening weekend.
However, no side has taken points away from the Dubs since Cork – remember them? – won at headquarters almost three years ago in round three.
Indeed only one team has headed home with anything to show for their efforts in the 13 League matches (including semi-finals and finals) Dublin have had there since that 0-18 to 1-17 loss to the Leesiders.
The upside for Tyrone is that they were that team, managing a 1-9 to 0-12 draw in round four two years ago; indeed the Red Hands should probably have won, denied by a late Dean Rock goal.
Tyrone did beat the Dubs in Croke in the 2013 League, so they will travel hopefully for tonight’s tie, but it’s still a big ask for them to avoid defeat, much more so to win.
Dublin, famously, are on a 30-match unbeaten run in League and Championship since Kerry inflicted a 0-15 to 1-10 defeat in round three in Division One two years ago. Interestingly, both those losses, to the Rebels and the Kingdom, came on the same date, March 1.
The dramatic draw Dublin achieved with Tyrone started that non-losing streak and only Mayo have stopped them winning since then, in the
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of those matches in Dublin’s remarkable run have been at Croke Park – 23, to be precise, with six away and last year’s Leinster SFC opener at the neutral venue of Nowlan Park.
Familiarity with the surroundings and the backing of the bulk of the crowd are just a couple of the factors in Dublin’s dominance, of course.
Mostly it’s down to the depth of talent in the Dublin panel. Ten of the team that started last year’s All-Ireland Final replay victory over Mayo lined out at Kingspan Breffni Park as Jim Gavin’s men cruised to a seven-point success against Cavan.
That was without such luminaries as Jonny Cooper, Cian O’Sullivan, Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn, and Bernard Brogan, and with a panel that mostly had not participated in the O’Byrne Cup.
Those filling in for the absentees from the All-Ireland replay starting side included 2015 Footballer of the Year Jack McCaffrey, back after taking a season out, and Eric Lowndes, David Byrne, Michael Darragh Macauley, and Cormac Costello, the last four named having all come off the bench to help defeat Mayo last October.
Tyrone have plenty of quality footballers too, of course, and two of them, Conor Meyler and Cathal McShane, will be buoyed by helping inflict a surprise defeat on a Dublin side in the capital as recently as Wednesday, in the Sigerson Cup quarter-fianls.
McShane scored three points and was involved in both goals as St Mary’s edged out DCU, 2015 winners and last year’s beaten finalists, by 2-14 to 2-13 after extra time.
Perhaps UCD, who destroyed Ulster University at Jordanstown in the Sigerson, are a better indicator of Dublin football’s strength, though.
Tyrone know very well that they must improve on last weekend, despite the six-point win over Roscommon.
The hosts allowed four good goal chances in the first half at Healy Park and will have to tighten up defensively without Mattie Donnelly, who went off after a bang to the head.
Peter Harte has been named at centre half-back but Colm Cavanagh is likely to drop deeper, as he did after his adventurous first period last Sunday. Rory Brennan could also be involved.
The aforementioned McShane is again named at full-forward for Tyrone but will drop out deeper, with skipper Sean Cavanagh likely to get more game-time off the bench than last Sunday.
The Red Hands can cause problems, but Dublin will be determined not to give them increased hope ahead of a potential summer showdown.
Dublin: Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon, M Fitzsimons, E Lowndes; J McCarthy, J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, MD McAuley; N Scully, P Mannion, C Kilkenny; J Whelan, E O'Gara, D Rock
Tyrone: N Morgan; P Hampsey, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, P Harte, J Munroe; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; C Meyler, N Sludden, D McClure; D McCurry, C McShane, R O’Neill
Substitutes: M O’Neill, M Bradley, L Brennan, R Brennan, S Cavanagh, C McCann, A McCrory, C McCullagh, HP McGeary, Justin McMahon, D Mulgrew, F Burns, R McHugh
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)