GAA Football

Experienced Dublin to edge close call against hungry Tyrone

Dublin's John Small could be chasing after Tyrone's Niall Sludden again in Croke Park tomorrow. Pic Philip Walsh

All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin (holders) v Tyrone (Croke Park, 4pm tomorrow)

IT'S not yer man against you-know-who. It's not 'yerra' against haven't-a-clue – or a chance.

There's no need for Philly McMahon to hype this one up, never mind Vince McMahon.

This is a real contest.

Indeed if the Dublin defender didn't happen to be a MMA enthusiast – and an admirer of his fellow metropolitan Conor McGregor - then Tyrone might take offence at the comparison he drew earlier in the week with tonight's Las Vegas super-fight/ freak-show.

However, Ballymun man McMahon wasn't putting the Red Hands down, explaining: "We don't know how well our tactics are going to work, the same with them. So we can only prepare as best we can."

Tyrone have said something similar. This could come down to fine margins: mistakes, moments of magic, calls by officials, decisions by both sets of management.

Much of the pre-match focus has been on another hothead from central Dublin city, Diarmuid Connolly, and whether or not he will start after serving out a 12-match suspension.

Yet as good a player as the St Vincent's man is – and he's excellent – there's talent all over both teams – and both benches.

Dublin's strength in depth seems scary, subs scoring 2-17 in their four matches so far. Connolly is available again, and they are likely to be able to bring on Bernard Brogan, Michael Darragh Macauley, Eoghan O'Gara, Kevin McManamon, possibly Paul Flynn (if he doesn't start), plus young talent such as Shane Carthy, Brian Howard, and Niall Scully.

However, in this campaign Tyrone subs have provided slightly more than their Dublin counterparts, 4-12, or just over a quarter of their tally. Those four goals have been shared between David Mulgrew and Ronan O'Neill, but Darren McCurry and Lee Brennan also offer attacking threats.

There's quality – and versatility – too from the likes of Rory Brennan, Richie Donnelly, Declan McClure, Conor Meyler, Padraig McNulty, and the experienced Justin McMahon.

Tyrone are younger and hungrier, seeking a first final appearance since 2008.

Dublin are more experienced, they know how to win major matches, aiming to complete a hat-trick of All-Ireland triumphs.

May weather play a part? There's an argument that wet conditions will be 'a leveller', that the referee will allow more leeway in the tackle, but Dublin aren't exactly shrinking violets physically.

If it were off the pitch you'd feel sorry for Jonny Cooper as he never seems to receive the cards he should. McMahon himself is probably under closer scrutiny in recent years, after his indiscretions with Kieran Donaghy and Aidan O'Shea.

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte is optimistic that referee David Coldrick will allow the right degree of contact, commenting:

"I think discipline is always very important, and discipline in the tackle, of course, particularly in the scoring zone – and when you're talking about Dean Rock, that's anywhere within 50-55 metres of the goals…

"There was a stage there when numbers round people suggested they were fouling them – now referees are smart enough and have worked at it enough to know because there are numbers round somebody doesn't mean they are fouling them….

"I think that will serve both teams well, they'll know what they're able to do, and what they're not able to do. That's the greatest way for a referee to show his consistency, that whatever is good for the goose is good for the gander –and we'll all take that."

The Red Hands have given few frees away this summer, although they haven't faced the bewildering whirlwind of Dublin's attacking sorties.

Tyrone won't mind a sunny day anyway. Harte spoke after the Ulster Final of their preference for "a dry sod", which suits their own running game.

Goalkeeper Niall Morgan also insisted that failing to beat Dublin in round two of this year's Division One wasn't as big a blow to morale as it might have appeared at that time.

"It maybe worked out better for us that we didn't win it because we had a lot to learn from the game and, if we had won it, it might have papered over the cracks.

"We had to come away and look at it in greater detail and ask ourselves why we didn't win the game. It was because we weren't hungry enough. We didn't want to win as much as Dublin didn't want to lose.

"They battled right to the end and got to the draw and kept their big unbeaten run.

"If we had beat them by two or three points, and them missing two or three men, it might have made us think 'Oh, we're better than Dublin'."

Hindsight viewed Tyrone's inability to hold on to a five-point lead harshly, but they played from the 50th minute with 14 men after the dismissal of key inside-forward Mark Bradley.

What's more, Dublin lined out with 11 of tomorrow's likely starters, compared to 10 for Tyrone, although most of the hosts hadn't featured in the O'Byrne Cup.

This is not the All-Ireland Final 'in all but name', Morgan cautioned: "It'll be a big test waiting for us. People are talking about it and saying we're the only team can beat them, but we have a hell of a lot of work to do."

Work-rate will be a major watchword for both sides, effort having to be upped considerably across the duration of close to 80 minutes of action as neither team has been tested so far.

Tyrone have won their four games by an average of 11.5 points, Dublin by an astonishing 15.5, skewed by a 31-point thrashing of Westmeath.

As so often, Ulster teams have been denigrated, but the sides that Tyrone faced (Derry, Donegal, Down, and Armagh) had an average finishing position in the League of nearly 13th. Dublin's opponents averaged 16.5. Two of those were Division Four teams, Carlow and Westmeath, albeit that the latter got promoted.

Sure, Donegal's finishing position of third in Division One was probably a false guide for them; but so was fourth place for Monaghan, Dublin's quarter-final victims.

The level of intensity in comparison will be off the scale. Tyrone cannot let their attention wander for a second, given the speed of Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs.

If truth be told, both sets of players and management have probably had their focus on this match-up for some time, arguably since before last October's Championships draws.

The format this year was for the Ulster Champions to meet their Leinster counterparts, or their respective conquerors, at the semi-final stage.

No one has come close to bringing down either. The Red Hands can certainly threaten to dislodge Dublin's All-Ireland crown – but Jim Gavin's side should be left standing at the end of a bruising battle.

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