Tyrone need to make everything count against dominant Dublin
THE turf accountants may not reckon Dublin-Tyrone is a foregone conclusion but beating the back-to-back All-Ireland Champions on what is effectively their home patch remains a tremendously tough task.
The Red Hands are as 'short' as 5/2 with some bookmakers, Dublin no stronger than 4/9 with others.
Mickey Harte's men aren't just going to 'make up the numbers' – but many of Dublin's figures are frightening.
This Dublin squad has been able to blend in players from FOUR recent All-Ireland U21 successes, in 2010, 2012, 2014, and this year's. Tyrone have drawn a few from their 2015 triumph at that level.
Dublin were deemed unbeatable in 2014 as they aimed to retain the title, and took their Championship winning streak into double figures – before Donegal shocked them in that year's semi-final.
Since then the Dubs have embarked on an 18-match unbeaten run in Championship. Eighteen.
Avoid defeat this Sunday and they'll match the record of the great Kerry team that extended from 1978 until the 1982 final, when the Kingdom's 'five-in-a-row' dreams were ended in controversial fashion by a late Offaly goal.
Only much-maligned Mayo have managed to stop Dublin winning in Championship since that Donegal defeat, with draws in the 2015 semi-final and last year's final.
Over the past seven seasons, from 2011 onwards, Dublin have played 42 Championship matches and won 38 of those, losing just two.
That's a win percentage of just over 90 per cent – and they lose less than five per cent of the time.
Even considering only their involvement in the All-Ireland stages, they have won 14 of 18 matches (78 per cent), drawing two and losing two (11 per cent each for those categories).
Those are phenomenal stats.
There's plenty of talk, all justified, about Tyrone's scoring power this season, racking up 6-77 (95) in their four matches, 5-64 (79) of that from play.
Yet Dublin have recorded 7-90 (111), 7-61 (82) from play, over the same number of games.
Such is Dublin's scoring prowess that we nearly take such huge returns – an average of almost 2-22 (28) per game – for granted.
They've done all that mostly without Diarmuid Connolly, whose suspension deriving from their opening game has now expired.
The teams they have both faced have to be taken into consideration, of course. Dublin's first two victims, Carlow and Westmeath aren't at the same level as Derry and Donegal, Tyrone's first two opponents, but arguably Kildare and Monaghan are generally better than Down and Armagh.
Besides, Carlow's game-plan was largely directed at keeping Dublin's scoring down, but even their well-organised industry still ended up conceding 19 points.
The reality is that neither team has come close to being tested so far in this Championship.
Let's look at their scoring positively: Tyrone have had 17 different scorers.
So have Dublin.
Tyrone aren't reliant on any one player.
Neither are Dublin.
What about Dean Rock, you ask?
Ah, Deano. He's only there for the frees and the 45s, isn't he?
Indeed. Apart from the three goals he has scored from play.
Besides, I'll never stop making the point that someone has to score from placed balls, and often they're not easy scores.
Yes, Rock has accounted for 20 per cent of Dublin's scores so far (3-14), but even if he is absent for any reason – as he was for most of the Leinster Final after a black card – Con O'Callaghan can step up and convert frees. Eight of them so far.
Dublin also have goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton and Connolly as options for long range placed ball kicks.
As a worrier, I was concerned that Tyrone had allowed too many scores against them, despite their dominance, albeit after taking the foot off the pedal against both Donegal and Down.
A colleague was convinced that Dublin had conceded more, having attended the Leinster decider where Kildare scored 1-17, again with some late scoring, including their goal.
In fact Dublin and Tyrone have conceded exactly the same so far, 1-46, an average of just over 12 points per match.
So clearly there is hope for Tyrone.
The turning point in Dublin's fortunes came against Tyrone in the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final.
Their dominance in Leinster had been ended by a five-goal semi-final blast from old rivals Meath, stopping the Metropolitans' attempt at a provincial six-in-a-row.
The Dubs' All-Ireland dream seemed unlikely to come true.
Dublin had lost to the eventual All-Ireland Champions in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2009, and to the beaten finalists in 2003 and 2006
However, they had been hammered by Kerry (1-24 to 1-7) in the previous year's All-Ireland last eight, having lost by 12 points to Tyrone at the same stage in 2008.
'Sam' seemed to be slipping further away, rather than coming closer.
Shipping five goals to the Royals added to that feeling, but Dublin worked their way into the All-Ireland quarter-finals and came strong at the end to beat Tyrone by five points.
Sure, in the semi-final, Cork became yet another team to beat the Dubs en route to collecting Celtic crosses, but only by a point.
Since then, Dublin have been the team to beat, although strangely their conquerors, Mayo and Donegal, didn't go on to win the All-Ireland.
Tyrone can't let that concern them, obviously. They certainly won't win 'Sam' if they don't defeat Dublin this year.
One good omen for Tyrone is that Dublin's only Championship defeats in this decade have come in semi-finals – Donegal (2014) and Mayo (2012), plus Meath and Cork in 2010, if you count that as part of this decade.
Tyrone, like Donegal in 2014 and Mayo in 2012, will know that the job won't be done, the trophy not won, if they somehow manage to overcome Dublin in this All-Ireland semi-final.
It would be quite an achievement all the same.
It's a tribute to Tyrone's talent that the bookies even give them half a chance.