GAA Football

Belief is in short supply as Tyrone go out to shock Dublin in All-Ireland football final

Mickey Harte will have his players well drilled for tomorrow's All-Ireland final. Pic Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

A CLONOE man, home after 45 years in Philadelphia, told me last weekend he was: “Back to see Tyrone beat the Dubs”. He’s one of the few expecting that.

Despite three fairly recent All-Ireland titles and a proud history of ripping up Croke Park scripts, the Red Hands will take the field tomorrow having been almost completely written off.

Before they run out the tunnel, Mickey Harte will remind his players about that but it will make no a difference to the result.

Everything that matters has been done by now and Harte has spent the last three weeks drilling into his players what their roles are.

The kick-out strategy, who’s marking Rock, who’s marking Kilkenny, who’s tracking McCaffrey, who’s picking up Fenton, when to pass, when to shoot, Cluxton’s kick-outs…

If his men perform and do their jobs, Harte will be confident but Dublin have planned too. Dublin have taken everything everyone can muster for years now and gone one better.

And dominating our Gaelic Football world and gorging on Sam Maguires and Leinster and League titles hasn’t made them soft.

They remain as hungry as ever because Jim Gavin has managed his squad brilliantly. Youngsters like Eoin Murchan and Brian Howard have come in and will be desperate to get their hands on a Celtic Cross while old hands like Michael Darragh MacCauley, Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan have been relegated to the bench and they’ll sit and stew there until Gavin fires them in determined to make a mark on the game.

In all, 21 players have scored for Dublin in this Championship run. They have posted 15-152 (in seven games) with an average of seven wides a game. In anyone’s book that is mighty impressive shooting.

There are five main scoring threats. Obviously you have Dean Rock who has posted 2-34 and is the team’s top scorer. The bulk of his scores come from placed balls but the Ballymun man will break out to the left flank to receive possession, give the Dubs a bridgehead deep in Tyrone territory and shoot or bring others into the game.

Arguably the man Tyrone have to put the heat on is Ciaran Kilkenny. The Castleknock clubman is a constant threat. He has registered 2-21 so far, all from play, and is capable of unlocking any defence with his creative passing.

Cormac Costello has bagged 0-18, Con O’Callaghan 2-10 and peerless midfielder Brian Fenton has got forward to post 1-10. Tyrone kept the Raheny centrefielder scoreless in Omagh but he had a hand in midfield colleague James McCarthy’s match-winning goal

McCarthy’s major in that game illustrated the range of scoring threats in this team. Plug one gap and another opens and that allows Dublin to play with flair and confidence in a patient passing rhythm and they’ll use the entire width of Croke Park to stretch the Tyrone defence certain that gaps will eventually open up.

It’s easy to rhyme off the Dublin forwards but the same cannot be said for Tyrones. Connor McAlliskey and Mark Bradley work like demons but Tyrone don’t have a marquee frontman – a Canavan or a Mulligan – who can be relied upon to hit 1-5 and win the game for them tomorrow and that is why Tyrone are ranked as underdogs.

But, and this is why sport keeps us all coming back, history is full of surprises and men and women who have stepped up and made a name for themselves on the biggest stage.

For Tyrone to win a dozen of their players need to play out of their skins. Niall Morgan needs to have the game of his life between the posts and with kick-outs (and a couple of ‘45s’ wouldn’t hurt either). Dublin will pile the pressure on him so when he kicks it short he has to find his man and when he goes long he has to find a Cavanagh or a Cathal McShane, who is also a handy option.

The Red Hands’ defence has to operate like a well-oiled machine. The calls from McNamee and Hampsey have to be loud and clear and the tackling sharp and disciplined.

Tiernan McCann has to blot out Jack McCaffrey, Peter Harte has to give John Small the slip and make him pay and when Michael McKernan and Frank Burns break they must do so with pace and there has to be an end product to their work. Cavanagh, McShane and Donnelly must at least break even in the middle third, Niall Sludden has to use the ball accurately and creatively and McAliskey has to be unerring with his free-taking and the man in the best position must get the ball because a couple of goals could turn this game right on its head.

Can all that happen? Yes it can and that is why you can’t rule out Tyrone. There are so many good footballers in this side and their performances against the Dubs in Omagh should have given them the confidence that they can compete in this final.

If you look through the sides, Dublin have the proven match-winners and performers. If Tyrone go man-to-man with them they will have occasional success but nine times out of 10 Dublin will be two points up at half-time and five by the finish – more if Tyrone have to chase the game late on.

Tyrone need to be smarter than that. At some stage they will have to push up and go for it in this game but the shorter they keep that period, the better it will be for them.

They came roaring back in the last 15 minutes in Omagh and you should expect something similar tomorrow. The same was true to their win in Ballybofey and even against Monaghan in the semi-final when Harte chose his moment to drive forward expertly and Sludden swept home the match-winning goal.

Tyrone cannot rely on turnovers to win, but they can rely on them to stay in touch in the game.

You can expect them to perform tomorrow, and if they do we will see what the Dubs are made of. If Tyrone are still in this game after an hour then the last 10 minutes become a final within the final and it’s anyone’s game then.

But (and there’s always a but when it comes to Dublin) whatever way you add this up, this is unquestionably the Dubs’ game to lose. In a two-horse race, who knows? Cluxton could have an off day, Rock could have a nightmare, every breaking ball could find its way to a man from Ulster and new heroes in red and white could force the famous Gaelic Football needs.

All that could happen but, optimism aside, Dublin have been there and done it and they get the nod to make it four in-a-row by five points tomorrow.

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