Tyrone win out on a memorable night

 

Dublin 1-16 Tyrone 1-18:There was much to celebrate at Croke Park this evening and the GAA spared no expense in doing so, treating nearly 80,000 to a hell of a 125th birthday party, but no amount of pyrotechnics was ever going to overshadow the renewal of hostilities between two great rivals on the pitch.

In a floodlit in HQ there was palpable anticipation as Dublin, under new manager Pat Gilroy, looked to open a new chapter by taking the scalp of All-Ireland champions Tyrone, who, it emerged very early on, had not come to the capital for a party.

For some time, they looked to have something more akin to a massacre on their minds, with Stephen O’Neill, back in the full swing of things, appearing particularly bloodthirsty.

He orchestrated a first half performance worthy of any anniversary bash, but an initially shell-shocked Dublin shook off their dazed expressions in the second period and very nearly completed a comeback that would have made Gilroy an instant hit on the Hill.

As the teams paraded around Croke Park, there was an air of the ‘exhibition’ about the night, but it was washed away as soon as the first whistle sounded and Tyrone made clear their intentions.

O’Neill had four points on the board within 15 minutes, punishing Dublin mistakes with ruthless efficiency. His first owed much to Tommy McGuigan, whose beautiful take sparked a typically swift Red Hand offensive that resulted in the forward opening the scoring with a precise finish after four minutes.

Conal Keaney responded with a neat finish of his own and added a free to edge the Dubs in front.

Tyrone kept it quick and simple from then on, with McGuigan dominant in midfield, and Owen Mulligan levelled the scores before O’Neill took hold of the game, giving Alan Hubbard the run around and tagging three in quick succession.

It wasn’t just his marksmanship that was causing problems, he soon instigated another two points, firstly for captain Seán Cavanagh and then for McGuigan, with superb link-up play. The five point advantage prompted the first change from Gilroy, who introduced Shane Ryan to midfield in place of Ross McConnell.

The change stemmed the flow of Tyrone scores somewhat and Keaney added another before good work from Bernard Brogan set up Ciaran Whelan for a well-taken point.

In truth, though, it was still the ‘Stephen O’Neill Show’. A nonchalant finish with his right foot preceded another off his good foot, from an impossibly tight angle. Paddy Andrews was then called on to brilliantly block his shot on goal.

To Dublin’s credit, they clawed their way back into it. Points from David Henry, Bernard Brogan and a vintage Jason Sherlock effort ensured there were just four points in at the break.

The Dubs emerged defiant. Gilroy obviously had a word because they had taken the lead within minutes of the restart, thanks to points from Ger Brennan and Sherlock and a coolly taken Bernard Brogan goal after Justin McMahon spilled the ball yards from John Devine’s goal.

Game on, as they say.

O’Neill immediately attempted to quench the revival but Cavanagh didn’t make use of his pass and spurned a goal-scoring chance. Predictably, it was only a reprieve and again O’Neill was instrumental, setting up Mulligan whose sidestep and finish past Stephen Cluxton were sublime.

From then on, it was anyone’s game, the momentum shifted from end to end, from blue to red and back again. Keaney rediscovered his range and added another two, including a memorable free after Colm Cavanagh was yellow carded minutes after coming on to the pitch.

Bernard Brogan, too, was electric and took his tally to 1-05 with a late point that put Dublin ahead with a minute to go.

But Cavanagh was having none of it. Having allowed his teammate the limelight throughout, he interjected to score two of the sweetest points of the game and steal victory before handing back to O’Neill who signed off with his eighth point of the game - his sixth from play.

A game worthy of the occasion and vice versa.