Forward-looking Dublin can claim their first league title in 20 years
Tyrone can make it a compelling contest but will struggle to repeat recent win against Gavin’s stronger selection
Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh in action against Dublin’s Denis Bastick during the recent league clash at Croke Park.
It’s hard to believe it’s 20 years since Dublin won the league and given the sort of decade just enjoyed by Tyrone, equally jolting to realise that Mickey Harte’s side haven’t lifted the title since his first season 10 years ago.
In the present however they’ve been comfortably the most impressive teams of the current league. There’s been more hype surrounding Dublin but Tyrone have shown in their first season back in the top division that they are back in business after a few fallow years.
It’s likely to be more of a blow for Dublin to fail to win this competition than for Tyrone. Jim Gavin’s management has been low-key and busy and has drawn good performances from a wide variety of players, giving the county greatly enhanced options going into the summer.
The danger in Tyrone’s challenge is that although the pendulum has swung in recent years towards Dublin – two All-Ireland quarter-final wins and a significant league encounter, which relegated the then Ulster champions – that was partly corrected last month when Dublin went down to their only defeat of the campaign and at their Croke Park home.
The one thing we can be sure of going into the match is that Tyrone will not have any ‘issues’ with Dublin. If Gavin’s side play as fitfully and without focus as they did last month, Tyrone will be perfectly happy to beat them again.
On the other hand the danger in Dublin’s challenge is that it will be significantly different from that staged seven weeks ago when Stephen Cluxton, Rory O’Carroll, Michael Macauley, Paul Mannion and Bernard Brogan didn’t start.
Conversely Tyrone have lost Peter Harte to injury and that is a substantial loss for them.
One of the major influences on the result that evening was the contribution made by two of the Tyrone replacements Patrick McNiece and Plunkett Kane who came on and kicked four points between them.
McNiece starts tomorrow and with his undoubted shooting ability he has also learned the necessity for high levels of industry at this level and in the process has looked very promising.
He’s named at left corner forward but may well switch to the right in order to allow Stephen O’Neill the latitude to drift to the left and create space. O’Neill’s injury-free run has been perhaps the most important influence on the team in the campaign to date.
Capable of the breath-taking scores he shot in the semi-final against Kildare he will require special vigilance but with the added menace that opting to double-team him creates opportunities elsewhere in a forward unit well capable of converting chances.
If that paints a worrying picture for Dublin, the rest of the considerations are more encouraging.
Centrefield will be more mobile and dynamic than it was and if Seán Cavanagh can be closely marked in the area and denied loose ball, it will put a sizeable spanner in the opposition works.
It is however at the other end of the field that Tyrone have most to worry about. Dublin were the top scorers in all four divisions during the regulation matches. Only one other county, Derry, breached three figures in their points’ total.
Tyrone are least settled in defence. Conor Gormley is the main influence but the ability of the backs to win their individual battles has to be in question.
Nonetheless and despite the weight of money at the bookmakers – Tyrone 7 to 2 – it will be a surprise if this isn’t a competitive match. In fact the longer Tyrone can stay in touch and keep it close, the more the prospect of an outsider victory will grow.
But Dublin deserve to be favourites. They even have the added motivation of being able to avenge their only defeat and prevent Tyrone getting back-to-back wins over them. 7To date they have shown the ability to do enough – and frequently more than enough – in periods of supremacy to see out matches.
Their pace and options on the bench give them the weapons to make sure that this template is more closely adhered to on this occasion.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; K O’Brien, J Cooper, D Daly; J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey; M D Macauley, C O’Sullivan; P Flynn, D Connolly, B Cullen; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan.
TYRONE: N Morgan; PJ Quinn, C Clarke, C McCarron; C Gormley, D Carlin, Justin McMahon; C Cavanagh, S Cavanagh; Matthew Donnelly, Mark Donnelly, Joe McMahon; M Penrose, S O’Neill, P McNiece.
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)