Dublin edge out Tyrone in Super 8s charade as both head for the All-Ireland semis
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final, Group Two: Tyrone 0-13 Dublin 1-16
THE Super 8s felt as dead as the heat in Omagh yesterday afternoon. If ever there was a misspent summer Sunday, this was it.
For the 15,315 supporters who snarled up the roads leading to Healy Park, yesterday was an opportunity missed to give those skirting boards another lick of paint, or to pluck those pesky weeds from the driveway, or to clear out the garage.
Yesterday was a day for some home improvements. It certainly wasn't one to be spent watching Tyrone and Dublin's second strings shadow boxing for 70-odd meandering minutes of football with their All-Ireland semi-final berths nailed a fortnight earlier.
Welcome to the doomed Super 8s.
After the way Group Two has panned out this year, it's hard to see how the new round robin quarter-final format can survive beyond 2020, its third and final experimental year.
No amount of enthusiastic drum-roll could lift this 'showdown' between last year's All-Ireland finalists.
And it was made more unpalatable when the two team selections were 'leaked' on social media late on Friday night.
Tyrone boss Mickey Harte made wholesale changes to the side that edged out Cork a couple of weeks earlier, and while Jim Gavin didn't initially go to the same selection extremes as his managerial adversary - or so we thought - there were a further six changes made to the Dublin team prior to throw-in yesterday.
In all, Dublin and Tyrone boasted 28 changes to their previous line-ups, which said everything you wanted to know about what would unfold in Omagh.
Yesterday was a grand exercise in fulfilling a fixture.
Every single fringe player who got a starting jersey knew it too.
But who could blame Harte or Gavin for resting their first-choice teams, especially with the ridiculous six and seven-day turnarounds for their respective All-Ireland semi-finals?
Dublin’s reward for winning yesterday’s dead-rubber in Omagh was a day’s less rest and a mouth-watering encounter with the anarchists from Mayo, while Tyrone’s six-point defeat ensured that they would face Kerry on Sunday.
The Dublin fans housed behind the road end of Healy Park brought tremendous colour to yesterday’s tie, with many of them probably inspired to get into their cars in the hope of witnessing the long-awaited return of Diarmuid Connolly.
And Gavin didn't disappoint the travelling support by starting the enigmatic St Vincent's clubman in midfield, his first appearance in sky blue since the 2017 All-Ireland final.
Unsurprisingly, most of what Connolly did was jeered and cheered in equal measure.
It was never going to be one of those days where space would be eagerly shut down, and so Connolly did a bit of strutting in the opening half, putting some top spin on his kick passes into the Dublin full-forward line - a gentle reminder that he still possesses the full skills set at elite level.
His 55th minute point prompted the biggest cheer of the day - and his stoppage-time black card for a pull-down on Tyrone defender Ciaran McLaughlin brought the biggest jeer of the day.
But, by that stage, Dublin were home and hosed as they led 0-15 to 0-10.
Connolly jogged off the field and shook hands with his awaiting manager, but he was still left wondering had he done enough to breach Dublin's match-day squad next Saturday.
Indeed, it was impossible for even the good performers to escape the heavy prejudice that these maddening days carry.
With Niall Morgan rested, reserve team goalkeeper Benny Gallen announced himself on the national stage with a supremely confident display.
The Aghyaran 'keeper never put a foot wrong all afternoon.
Like a scratch golfer with his trusty five-iron, Gallen's kick-outs spun into the intended targets almost every time, and his sharp save to deny Cormac Costello a goal in the 46th minute was exemplary.
Corner-backs Ciaran McLaughlin and Liam Rafferty gave performances that hinted Tyrone's in-house games aren't for the feint-hearted, while Richie Donnelly, Michael Cassidy and Connor McAliskey did their claims of a starting place against Kerry next Sunday no harm at all, although half-back Cassidy limped off with a hip injury after 38 minutes.
McAliskey, who has been nudged out of Tyrone's starting team this summer by Cathal McShane and Darren McCurry, possessed the verve you'd expect from a player wanting to win back his place.
Rory O'Carroll simply couldn't handle the Clonoe man's movement and pace as he fired over three points from play.
Cassidy didn't hold anything back either when he was fit to do so and apart from a couple of uncharacteristic blemishes, Richie Donnelly showed sure-footedness in front of Dublin's posts.
David Mulgrew emptied the tank too at the point of the Tyrone attack - but was well marshalled by Jonny Cooper, and Omagh clubman Conan Grugan showed glimpses of his undoubted ability.
But it would be naïve to think that any potential five-star performers in Omagh yesterday would change Harte and Gavin’s starting teams that, in all likelihood, are already picked for their respective semi-finals.
The player that perhaps nudged their manager more than any other was Sean Bugler of Dublin who produced a man-of-the-match display.
Tyrone had no answer for his slick movement. The Plunkett's man scored three points from play and set up substitute Eoghan O'Gara for his late palmed goal finish and couldn't do much more to force his way into his manager's thinking ahead of the Mayo game.
Dublin made the less lethargic start of the sides with Cormac Costello top-scoring in the opening half with five points (0-4 frees). Richie Donnelly popped two fine scores over Dublin's bar with his right and left in the 17th and 22nd minutes and McAliskey also found his range.
Both Ciaran McLaughlin and Conan Grugan saw first-half efforts clip the posts and go wide and Tiernan McCann couldn't convert a decent chance after Mulgrew won possession off Diarmuid Connolly.
At both ends of the field the forward lines rotated quite a bit. Paddy Andrews, Costello and Kevin McManamon never stayed in the one place for too long and Conal McCann and Richie Donnelly had spells inside with McAliskey pulling out.
But there was nothing tactically discernible from this tie, although Conal McCann provided a decent target when he did drift onto the edge of the square and was desperately unlucky to level the game when his bustling run and clipped effort came off the underside of Dublin’s crossbar on 44 minutes.
Two minutes later, Costello could have extended Dublin’s lead to six - but Gallen made a sharp save.
Rory Brennan – the first of Tyrone’s six substitutions of the afternoon - scuffed two good chances in the second half as the home side’s wide count peaked at 13 to Dublin’s eight.
Niall Sludden, McAliskey (free) and McCurry grabbed late scores but O’Gara’s palmed major in the 75th minute ensured another Dublin victory.
At the final whistle there was a palpable sense of relief that the Super 8s had been concluded for the year.
Tyrone and Dublin quickly moved on from yesterday's charade, perhaps quietly confident that they might meet each other again on September 1, when the stakes will be a great deal higher.
Tyrone: B Gallen; C McLaughlin, P Hampsey, L Rafferty; T McCann, A McCrory, Michael Cassidy; B McDonnell, D McClure; R Donnelly (0-2), K Coney (0-2 frees), C Grugan (0-1); D Mulgrew, C McAliskey (0-5, 0-2 frees), C McCann (0-1) Subs: HP McGeary for P Hamspey (h/t), R Brennan for M Cassidy (38 inj), B Kennedy for R Donnelly (38), D McCurry (0-1) for C McCann (57), M McKernan for T McCann (56), N Sludden (0-1) for D Mulgrew (68)
Yellow cards: C Grugan (35), B Kennedy (48)
Dublin: E Comerford; R O’Carroll, D Byrne, A McGowan; E Murchan, J Cooper, R McDaid; S Bulger (0-3), J McCarthy; E Lowndes, C Costello (0-6, 0-4 frees), D Connolly (0-1); K McManamon (0-2), P Small (0-2), P Andrews (0-1) Subs: P McMahon for D Byrne (h/t), MD MacAuley for J McCarthy (h/t), B Brogan (0-1) for P Small (45), E O’Gara (1-0) for J Cooper (45), C O’Connor for R O’Carroll (55), P O Cofaigh-Byrne for C Costello (68)
Black cards: D Connolly (not replaced 70)
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)