Tyrone can get closer to Dublin in Omagh - but still not close enough
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final Group 2, phase 2: Tyrone v Dublin (Healy Park, 7pm)
To where? Or what?
If the ‘Welcome’ aspect is questionable then the allusion to ‘Hell’, from Galatasaray’s infamous ‘Welcome to Hell’ greeting, is definitely in dispute.
As Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has acknowledged, Omagh is far from a ‘fortress’ for the hosts and tonight they must try to avoid defeat by the best team around.
A Dublin team that is not only aiming for a fourth consecutive All-Ireland title but determined to show that their recent successes aren’t largely down to them having ‘home’ advantage in Croke Park for all their major matches.
Yet there’s no doubt that having the majority of the support in a stadium is a boost in all sports, not least in subconsciously influencing referees in favour of the team with the loudest backing.
The decibel count should be more even this evening, although there’ll still be a fair amount of Dubs packing out Healy Park.
With the tickets already sold, Harte’s appeal is to those Tyrone fans who have secured their place in the ground: “I hope that they become vociferous, because there has to be an energy about this.
“There’s a serious energy in Croke Park when the Dubs are there, and the place is rocking, so there’s no reason why Omagh can’t be rocking as well and rocking a bit more in our favour than theirs.”
It’s arguable that Tyrone have failed to win all their recent big Championship games in Omagh – losing to Monaghan this year, Armagh (2014), Derry in 2006, and drawing with Down in 2008 and 2014. They did defeat the Mournemen in 2005, but Down wouldn’t have been rated too highly then. Admittedly, Tyrone haven’t had all that many home Championship games, and Ulster can be competitive, but that record remains a concern.
Tyrone will need all the backing of their supporters and more to rock Dublin to such an extent that they beat them in the Championship for the first time in 10 years, a result that would still only secure an All-Ireland semi-final place if there isn’t a winner in Dr Hyde Park between Roscommon and Donegal.
Arguably Tyrone should save themselves for their trip to Ballybofey at the end of this month to take on their successors as Ulster champions, but there’s no chance of Harte’s men rolling over to have their tummies tickled by Dublin. After all, they did that last year and look how that turned out.
Tonight has to be different.
Tyrone aren’t renowned for applauding All-Ireland champions onto their home patch, whatever size it is, and they need the controlled aggression that brought them their first All-Ireland in 2003. Put out the ‘Welcome’ mat, surely – but don’t be doormats.
Amidst all the increasingly excellent analysis of the GAA by members of the media, trained sports analysts, and former players such as Aidan O’Rourke and our own columnist Enda McGinley, the latter is quite right to declare that “somewhere in the modern game there must still be room for the oldest cliché of them all: ‘Get stuck in!’”
They signally failed to do that last year, with the exception of Colm Cavanagh, and he unusually went too far with a high foot, a release of his obvious frustration, into opposition midfielder Brian Fenton.
Too often, though, Tyrone dropped off as well as dropping deep – and Dublin dropped them to the canvas at their leisure.
The Red Hands will have to get tight and keep the game tight tonight to stand any chance of victory. Indeed the hosts will probably need to be ahead as the game clock ticks past the hour mark given Dublin’s tendency to out-score opponents after that stage of matches.
That’s partly due to Dublin’s depth of talent, partly to their array of attacking ability.
The amount of goal chances that Dublin created against Donegal was frightening, even if they’re nowhere near as mean defensively under Declan Bonner as they have been for most of this decade.
The feeling is that Tyrone are better at the back this year, with the inclusion of Frank Burns and Michael McKernan, plus Padraig Hampsey moving to midfield. All three offer scoring threats too.
The Red Hands truly are a different side this year. Making the dangerous assumption that the team announced is the one that will start, there will be seven personnel changes from the line-out against Dublin in last year’s last four, and the Tyrone attack will be much-altered.
Connor McAliskey has been the main man this year, after injury ruled him out for the entire season, replacing Mark Bradley, with the latter working his way back to full fitness after going off in the Ulster opener.
Conor Meyler, Cathal McShane, and Richie Donnelly have all come into the starting attack too, all to good effect.
Tyrone are still short of their best, missing the experienced Cathal McCarron (replaced by Hugh Pat McGeary), with injury having also ruled out Bradley until recently, while Lee Brennan – the overall top scorer in Division One this year – is only back on the bench tomorrow.
Obviously Jim Gavin still has the best and deepest squad at his disposal. Philly McMahon, Eric Lowndes, and Paddy Andrews were all named to face Donegal, but none of them started, with only Lowndes coming off the bench. Instead reigning Allstars Cian O’Sullivan and Jack McCaffrey came into defence, along with last year’s U21 winner, the tenacious Eoin Murchan, with the classy Brian Howard moved into attack.
Even then, Dublin were able to bring Cormac Costello, Kevin McManamon, Paul Flynn, and Colm Basquel off the bench. W.O.W.
Narrower pitch dimensions may reduce Dublin’s ability to drag defenders wide, but it’s hard to suggest that Tyrone can close last year’s gulf completely.
The only really close Championship contests between these counties have been the 1995 All-Ireland Final and the 2005 drawn quarter-final. It’s almost a full decade since Tyrone’s last Championship win, the 12-point trouncing en route to their third All-Ireland. Since then, Dublin have got better and better, with three wins over the Red Hands, by five, seven, and 12 points respectively – and have also won FIVE All-Irelands.
Tyrone may bring the noise, even ‘la furia roja (y blanco)’, but that probably won’t be enough.
The Red Hands will get closer – but Dublin still appear untouchable, the devils.
Peter Harte (Tyrone) v John Small (Dublin)
Small did a big number on the Tyrone playmaker in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and there were further flashpoints between the pair in the League meeting in Healy Park earlier this season. The expectation is that Dublin will bring the Ballymun man back in after serving a one-match ban after his controversial and contested sending-off in the Leinster Final. Harte himself was dismissed in Tyrone’s Ulster loss to Monaghan, missing the Meath match but has played an important part since returning, and netted two penalties. Tyrone will need him to open up the Dublin defence if they’re to maintain winning ways.
Man of the moment....
Lee Brennan (Tyrone)
With so much quality on both teams it may seem strange to select someone who hasn’t been named in the starting side – but Lee Brennan was supposed to be the player who could lift Tyrone up closer to Dublin’s level this year. The Trillick attacker is finally back on the bench after aggravating a hamstring injury against Monaghan which had put him in doubt for that Ulster SFC opener. Brennan was clearly not fully fit and was taken off early in the second half before being subsequently ruled out for eight weeks. He is back on the bench at last and may be needed to provide the scores Tyrone will undoubtedly need to defeat Dublin. He played well in the League meeting, posing problems for Michael Fitzsimons as he scored three points from play (augmented by three frees), which helped him to finish as the leading scorer in Division One with 2-30.
‘Where do you draw the line?’ is a phrase often uttered in exasperation and Tyrone may well still be wondering what the answer to that question is too. The Red Hands have tended to hold a deep defensive line, dragging opponents onto them and then hitting them on the counter-attack. However, that didn’t bring a win against Monaghan, the only other top flight team they’ve played in the Championship so far this year.
If the hosts do narrow the Healy Park pitch then the intention is clearly to reduce the space in which Dublin can score and create from out wide, as they did so well in Croke Park last August.
Tyrone may still have to think about engaging their defensive press further up the field than they normally do, although that may then curtail their own counter-attacking options. Decisions will also have to be made about when to spring the smaller but trickier attacking options of Mark Bradley and Lee Brennan, but before that the hosts will hardly kick much long ball in given the presence of Dublin sweeper Cian O’Sullivan.
Dublin squeezed up on Donegal’s kick-outs last Saturday night, causing serious problems to the previously impressive Shaun Patton, but may not repeat that approach against Tyrone. Niall Morgan tends to go long with most of his re-starts, targeting their host of big men around the ‘middle eight’ and/ or whoever happens to be in at full-forward, with other Red Hands aiming to pick up any broken ball. Dublin may trust in their own aerial ability and their forwards tackling back to gain or re-gain possession.
In attack, the involvement of Brian Howard has allowed Ciaran Kilkenny to be pushed further forward with great consequences, scoring 2-16 from play in his advanced role, while midfielder Brian Fenton has also got forward for 1-9. The still under-rated Dean Rock has bagged two goals as well. His free-taking accuracy makes him one of the few who’s unlikely to be taken off; every other Dub knows they must give their all of their number will come up.
N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, H P McGeary; T McCann, F Burns, P Harte; C Cavanagh, P Hampsey; M Donnelly, N Sludden, C Meyler; C McShane, R Donnelly, C McAliskey.
Subs: M O’Neill, M Bradley, L Brennan, R Brennan, H Loughran, C McCann, D McClure, A McCrory, K McGeary, P McNulty, R O’Neill.
Mickey Harte has been forced into one change, bringing in Hugh Pat McGeary for the injured Cathal McCarron, whose experience will be a loss. The Tyrone boss has been without both Mark Bradley and Lee Brennan in attack for most of this Championship campaign, but has them both on the bench now. Harry Loughran and Ronan O’Neill are other options in attack, while the likes of Rory Brennan, Kieran McGeary, Declan McClure, and Paudie McNulty offer alternatives in other areas.
DUBLIN (possible): S Cluxton; J Small, M Fitzsimons, J Cooper; J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, MD Macauley; N Scully, C O'Callaghan, B Howard; P Mannion, D Rock, C Kilkenny.
Dublin’s wealth of options means that Jim Gavin may well change a winning team; to be fair, he doesn’t get many chances to adapt a losing one. Eoin Murchan came in to do a man-marking job on Donegal’s Ryan McHugh but, especially given the bigger size of the Tyrone forwards, John Small may return after serving a suspension, while Philly McMahon and Eric Lowndes are other tenacious options at the back. Up front Paddy Andrews would start for many teams – but so would Cormac Costello, Kevin McManamon, Paul Flynn, and/or Colm Basquel.
All Championship meetings...
2017 All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin 2-17 Tyrone 0-11
2011 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Dublin 0-22 Tyrone 0-15
2010 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Dublin 1-15 Tyrone 0-13
2008 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Dublin 1-8 Tyrone 3-14
2005 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final replay: Dublin 1-14 Tyrone 2-18
2005 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Dublin 1-14 Tyrone 1-14
1995 All-Ireland SFC Final: Dublin 1-10 Tyrone 0-12
1984 All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin 2-11 Tyrone 0-8
Having remembered to check the weather forecast for Omagh, not Dublin, the likelihood is that will be largely dry this evening, albeit with increasing cloud cover, perhaps making for muggy, hopefully ‘Mugsy’ conditions. The temperature is likely to be high ’teens, perhaps even low 20s, with some light breeze. Do I need to tell you? Bring a light coat anyway.
Who's the ref?
David Coldrick (Meath)
Tyrone boss Mickey Harte lauded the Meath man last year and would have been happy before last year’s semi-final to have him in charge – but maybe didn’t feel the same way afterwards. Coldrick is known for ‘letting things go, letting the game blow’ but he let Dublin defender John Small away with far too much in his man-marking of Tyrone playmaker Peter Harte. There’s no doubt the Red Hands will want to get much more physical with the Dubs than they were last year, but they’ll still need appropriate protection for their own runners, especially smaller men like Mark Bradley and Lee Brennan, if and when they come into the fray.
Tyrone (+4) 5/6
Handicap draw (Tyrone + 4) 10/1
Dublin (-4) 11/10
Dean Rock (Dublin) 5/1
Connor McAliskey (Tyrone) 8/1
Over 2.5 goals 6/5
Last Championship meeting....
2017 All-Ireland semi-final: Dublin 2-17 Tyrone 0-11
Really? Does anyone require a reminder of this? The pain of this hammering is surely still seared on the Red Hands, while Dublin won’t forget how they toyed with Tyrone and gave them the run-around. Con O’Callaghan’s goal after just five minutes set the tone for the rampant Dubs, who played superbly to lead by seven points at the break, 1-9 to 0-5. Tyrone never threatened a comeback, indeed Dublin’s subs posed more problems – Paul Flynn and Kevin McManamon both could have scored goals and Eoghan O’Gara did, while the brilliant Jack McCaffrey should have. To cap off Tyrone’s miserable day, Peter Harte had a late penalty saved by Stephen Cluxton.
23 – the number of goals scored by Dublin (9) and Tyrone (14) in their collective 10 Championship matches this year – and that’s with the Red Hands failing to find the net against Cavan at Kingspan Breffni Park in round three of the qualifiers.