Connolly keeps his head as Dublin book semi-final spot
St Vincent’s star’s classy late point ends a brave comeback by Mickey Harte’s side
Dublin’s Diarmund Connolly celebrates at the final whistle of his side’s victory over Tyrone. Photograph: Russell Pritchard/Presseye/Inpho
The All-Ireland champions are becoming dangerously expert at consigning teams to Heartbreak Hill. Ask Tyrone.
A year ago, Dublin edged the league title from Tyrone hands with a perfectly timed winning point and then went unbeaten all summer.
Yesterday, in the concluding passage of a gripping April joust between these keenest of rivals, Diarmuid Connolly kicked a magnificent point into the wind, sunshine and a travelling-version Hill 16 at the Gortin Road end of the ground. There ended Tyrone’s league interest. But the bare result – 3-10 to 1-15 – just hints at what was a brave Tyrone revival.
For five minutes yesterday, Tyrone disappeared. From standing back as Dublin sauntered through for goals by James McCarthy and Jason Whelan in the first minute to having full back Ronan McNamee dismissed with a black card, Tyrone seemed to set to suffer an appalling bout of stage fright in front of a 9,237 strong house. Then Michael Daragh Macauley surged into a full forward channel to make it 3-03 to 0-3 after 15 minutes.
Healy Park fell silent and contemplated the worst. Instead, they witnessed a remarkable, slow-burning revival which saw them draw level after Matty Donnelly, a heroic figure at number six for Tyrone, kicked a fine point with three minutes remaining.
For a minute or two, the home crowd got a scent of old glories. Then the St Vincent’s man got the ball and illustrated that he is on the verge of one of those years.
“It is tough to take” admitted Mickey Harte afterwards.
“The effort we put in the second half we probably deserved something out of the game. I suppose the way we started we left ourselves with a real uphill battle . . . ”
Tyrone could query the decision not to black card Dublin goalkeeper Seán Currie, whose foul on Shay McGuigan led to Peter Harte’s converted penalty after 58 minutes. The afternoon was littered with minor controversies; black cards not produced, a late dismissal for Rory O’Carroll and the home team’s gallop halted by a series of frees, a topic which drew a wry smile from Harte.
“We were the ones who were supposed to be doing all that negative stuff in days gone by. But there you are. I hope there is the same cry about it now.”
But Jim Gavin looked surprised when it was put to him that the Dublin fouls could be construed as strategic.
“I would question anybody who would question that Dublin are a cynical team. I certainly think we try to play the right way. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t, I think today that both teams went hard at it and I think the game was played in the right spirit.”
And it was brilliant entertainment for long stretches. The honesty of Tyrone’s chase and the merciless pace of Dublin’s counter-runs led by Jack McCaffrey and Kevin McManamon gave the match a thrilling end-to-end dimension. It was intense. Sporadic wrestling matches broke out all over the field. Yellow cards were flashed liberally. The defensive work rate of attacking stars like Alan Brogan from Dublin and Tyrone’s Darren McCurry stood out.
It will infuriate both Seán Cavanagh and Peter Harte that their breakdown in communication gifted the Dubs with the crucial possession. Immediately, Connolly came hunting for the ball and even as he drew to kick, it was written in the sky.
“Yeah . . . It is a great trait that this team has,” Gavin said afterwards.
“They have great mental strength and to come away to somewhere like Healy Park where the game was in the balance and for them to still try and work a solution – we place a lot of emphasis in the sessions in having guys coming up with a solution . But technically, Diarmuid Connolly executed the shot very well and we were just happy that it went over.”
As for the Red Hand faithful, as losses go, this one wasn’t the worst.