Dublin can ride out Tyrone storm to leave Red Hands looking over shoulders
Allianz National Football League Division One: Tyrone v Dublin (tonight, 7.15pm, Healy Park, live on eir Sport)
ALL of a sudden, it feels a long time since the Tyrone players were walking from the field in Edendork. Soaked to their skins, yet it didn’t matter as warm pats on the back sent them towards the dressing rooms.
The heartiest cheers were reserved for homecoming heroes Darren McCurry, Niall Morgan and Conn Kilpatrick, though they were pushed close by the roar reserved for the returning Cathal McShane.
Seeing his first action since spurning a shot at a new life Down Under, the Allstar forward wore the widest of smiles after the vital victory over Kerry. He was glad to be back, but so were Tyrone following a dismal display against Monaghan seven days earlier.
As they basked in the warm afterglow of Arthur Mallon Park heading into the League break, all the pieces appeared to be falling into place.
Three weeks on, those pieces lie tossed around Tuam, and it is up to Mickey Harte to try and put them back together when All-Ireland champions Dublin arrive in Omagh tonight.
Few could have foreseen the utter annihilation that came Tyrone’s way at the hands of a Galway side suddenly bursting at the seams with pace and imagination under former Tribe maestro Padraic Joyce.
Losing was bad, going down in such a manner a shock to the system, but the injury to McShane cut the deepest – by far. The 24-year-old dislocated his ankle during the second half of that game, and is not expected to be available again until July.
Considering how much the Red Hands have undoubtedly come to rely on him after last year’s exploits, Harte has to go back to the drawing board. Already without the talismanic Mattie Donnelly, they must now find a way to come up with the scores that stop them being dragged down towards the bottom of the Division One table.
Yet where he won’t have got carried away with sending the Kingdom home empty-handed, Harte will view last weekend’s disaster for what it was - a day when nothing, absolutely nothing, went for them.
First of all, Kieran McGeary was harshly sent off seven minutes before the break. McCurry had led the fightback at the start of the second half before the injury to McShane took the wind from their sails.
A second yellow card for Frank Burns put the tin cap in things as Galway ran riot, the Tribesmen scoring 2-11 to just one Tyrone point in 20 minutes of one-way traffic at the end of the game.
In some ways welcoming Dublin to Healy Park, presuming it escapes the effects of Storm Jorge, might be the best game Tyrone could have faced in the wake of such a shellacking.
There will have been no room for self-pity, and Harte will have watched with interest how Ulster rivals Monaghan and Donegal have both pushed Dessie Farrell’s men to the pin of their collars in recent weeks.
Intensity and attacking bravery were the key for the Farneymen as they could and should have buried the Dubs in Croke Park; Tyrone will have to try and follow that template, though whether they can punish Dublin with the same efficiency is just one of the questions they will have to answer.
Donegal also capitalised on an uncharacteristically slow start to edge ahead last week and, driven on by the hurt sustained in Salthill, Tyrone can be expected to come strongly out of the blocks in Omagh.
But, even in the early stages of Farrell’s reign, an experimental Dublin are showing many of the same calm, controlled characteristics that would come to define Jim Gavin’s time at the helm.
It can serve them well again tonight, leaving Tyrone looking nervously over the shoulders heading into the final few weeks.