Danny Hughes: As Tyrone found out... Dublin just don't do panic
If the first weekend of the Super 8s proved underwhelming, the argument in favour of taking the competition into the provincial towns will certainly gather momentum after round two of the quarter-final stages.
The novelty of a day out at Croke Park has waned, and we are a long way from those early days of this century when an Ulster final had to be moved to the Jones’s Road venue, such was the demand for tickets.
The fans have given us their opinion.
Croke Park is no longer the stadium of choice, with poor attendances and a dull atmosphere the norm these days.
Newbridge, Hyde Park, Healy Park and Clones all proved to be better venues over the weekend, and the atmosphere on the terraces was reciprocated on the field, with the games proving much better than anything seen in the Championship this year.
The GAA have belatedly succumbed to pressure from outside Dublin and made the reigning All-Ireland champions travel out of their comfort zone.
It’s not before time.
However, Dublin will still remain as long-term tenants of Croke Park when the ‘neutral’ games are played and also hold it as their home venue so the imbalance is still there.
Making them leave the capital for one game is a start for now, and the Dubs will feel that, for all the complaining that goes on outside their boundaries, they are proving themselves no matter what is thrown at them.
Travelling to Healy Park to play a Tyrone team who had nothing to lose, as a result of last year’s trimming in the semi-final, is no easy feat and against any other opposition, the Red Hands played well enough to win the game.
They enjoyed more possession than Dublin but statistics only ever tell part of the tale.
Dublin have the better players and the better team at this moment in time.
They also have a stronger bench.
Not only are they individually very skilful, but they’re also collectively very good in the basics, especially in the art of defending.
It amazes me that modern coaching is pre-occupied with defensive systems, but when you ask a defender to deal with an opponent one-on-one, they seem unable to do it.
How many times were Tyrone stripped of the ball in the tackle on Saturday evening?
And I’m not talking about when they were surrounded by Dublin players either. I mean situations when it became a contest between one player from each team in isolation.
James McCarthy, Paul Mannion and Ciaran Kilkenny all robbed Tyrone men in the tackle without fouling them.
These are all forward-thinking players who are willing to graft and do the jobs usually assigned to defenders or less talented forwards.
This collective mindset sets Dublin apart as a squad and as individuals.
I don’t think they get enough credit for this.
It is easier to laud the kick-passing, the decision-making and indeed the score-taking.
Of course games are won on individual brilliance too, but the quality of high-fielding, movement to create space for a team-mate and pick-ups (see Jack McCaffrey’s assist for Paul Flynn’S point) are all testament to getting the ‘basics’ of Gaelic football right.
It can sometimes be a simple game complicated by idiots.
It appears that the Dublin coaching system appears to be excellent at all levels, particularly at senior level.
It never really felt to me that they would lose over the course of Saturday’s game, despite Tyrone’s late surge.
In contrast to Monaghan’s catastrophic concession of an injury-time goal against Kerry, Dublin just don’t do panic.
Tyrone lack a Ciaran Kilkenny.
And a Brian Fenton for that matter.
Both were immense, and in Diarmuid Connolly’s self-imposed absence, Kilkenny has really stepped up and become Dublin’s most influential player.
But I firmly believe it is easier to be brilliant in a great team than it is to be brilliant in a mediocre one.
Which makes David Clifford such a remarkable young talent.
To step up and keep a county such as Kerry in the Championship in the manner he did takes serious character.
You need luck also and Monaghan didn’t have it.
Despite three of the best performances you will see this year, from Rory Beggan, Karl O’Connell and the irrepressible Conor McManus, there will be many sleepless nights in the Farney county should they fail to reach the All-Ireland semi-finals.
They need not rely on other teams doing them a favour either.
Galway will be looking to top their group and avoid Dublin in the last four, so Monaghan will have to work hard for anything they get in Salthill next weekend.
The Tribe will also want to keep their momentum going as there is nothing better for team morale than winning matches.
A defeat for Galway would break their winning run and if any measure of doubt crept in at this stage in the year it could be like a cancer.
To win the All-Ireland, you must believe you are going to win it.
Thankfully, given the results, the last round of games in the Super 8s will mean something for the majority of teams.
So what of Kerry?
The last two weeks have really put the Munster championship into context for a start.
And serious questions have to be asked of their management.
Have they never heard of Conor McManus (above)?
Why not play a sweeper in front of him to protect the ‘D’, especially in Monaghan’s own backyard?
It seems extremely naïve of Eamonn Fitzmaurice and his backroom team not to properly prepare for this threat.
And being unable to counteract Monaghan’s kick-out strategy... don’t get me started.
Two games into the Super 8s, Kerry look like they are struggling collectively.
It’s all well and good introducing youngsters into the starting 15, but you need a healthy splattering of experienced inter-county players.
Too many managers see the over-30s as at retirement age.
When you analyse Monaghan’s blend and age make-up, I can’t help but feel that it’s now or never for this group.
Will they ever have such an opportunity again?
Perhaps the kick up the backside they experienced in the last minute against Kerry will be the making of this team.
Every champion has experienced moments like this and these very setbacks are what make the winning journey so much more special.
Not that I’d know, of course.