Dublin and Tyrone warm the cockles with a thrilling draw at a bitter Croke Park

The two sides traded punches for the full 70 minutes with points deservedly shared

Dublin 0-10 Tyrone 1-7

The championship is for wimps. Over 28,000 huddled together in Croke Park to see Dublin rumble on towards history against a Tyrone team that did everything to win except stay in front at the end.

What’s a side to do? Mickey Harte’s superbly marshalled team held the Dubs scoreless for a full hour and had the home team penned in even with 14 men.

And yet as the rain lashed down and the city wind howled mournfully and the Hill crowd bayed for more, there was a sense, in the last two minutes, that the Dubs were in vengeful mood. It finished in a stalemate.


But Tyrone came close here. Niall Morgan stopped a Dean Rock penalty in the 40th minute, Aidan McCrory finished from a smashing Tyrone running move initiated by Cathal McCarron and Niall Sludden struck a fabulous vein of form on a punishing night for forwards. And yet.

This Dublin team are obdurate in the extreme. They just keep on plugging. Rock shrugged off the penalty miss to nail two distance frees to level the game deep in injury time and extend their unbeaten run to a stunning 31 games.

Will any team come closer in this league than Tyrone did here?

There was no love lost in a very cold climate from the beginning. Croke Park had the in-house meteorologists out and it was declared the “coldest ever” occasion in Croke Park. And it did seem as if Gaelic football was being played in Lambeau Field, Green Bay by eight o’clock. Luckily the heat of the occasion and the furious honesty of both teams kept the crowd warmed.

The obligation was on Tyrone to put on a big show here and how they delivered. The intelligence of the Red Hand’s defensive play in the first half must have made their supporters smart at all over again at the thought that they missed a chance to make the final last September. Dublin were playing into the Hill end and a freezing wind, requiring their storming half backs to break forward to ward off hypothermia as well as fulfilling the game plan.

James McCarthy, in particular, found that his every run was sat-nav’d by the Ulster men with tireless diligence and although several accurate passes found their target in Eoghan O’Gara, the big man found himself smothered by white shirts and soon as he caught the ball.

The late inclusion of big Justin McMahon, who manages to perform as both DJ and bouncer in the Tyrone defensive club, worked a treat. Peter Harte, wearing six, played an advance role and the only blemish in the master plan was the black card issued to Tiernan McCann for an iffy drag-down on Jonny Cooper.

Tyrone held the All-Ireland champions to just 0-2 for 38 minutes and their third score came when the ball ricocheted into the arms of Jonny Cooper, hanging about the Tyrone square, who promptly hoofed it over the bar before half of Carraigmor surrounded him.

If there was a problem for Tyrone, it was at the other end of the field. The approach work was typically pretty and clever but Tyrone fired eight wides from play with that significant wind behind them. Some of those chances were reasonable but other shots came because Tyrone had no target man inside.

Darren McCurry and Mark Bradley are run-at-defenders forward and Cathal McShane had a hopeless job trying to elude both Dublin full back Michael Fitzsimons and the covering John Small. They were rewarded with two wonderful points on the run from Niall Sludden, easily the attacking highlights of the first half.

So at the break, Tyrone could point to a lead but probably realised that it should have been – and needed to be – more than 0-2.

And this was not the finely tuned Dublin of last September. The gaps that they were used to finding with precision passes were gobbled up by white shirts here but even so, too many handpasses fell short or were spilled and the intuition and understanding which make the Dubs so lethal was blunted. What was not missing was the work ethic, best advertised by Paul Mannion's lung-busting run back to get a block on Padraig Hampsey, who left his corner-back role in search of a rare score.

Despite shuffling his personnel, Jim Gavin couldn't get any change out of Tyrone's defence as the hour mark passed. Even after Bradley was red carded for an off-the-ball incident with Cooper, Tyrone looked assured and organised.

Another shimmering run by Sludden seemed to push the Ulster men into a four point lead but Hawkeye called his angled shot wide after 62 minutes. Seconds later Brian Fenton thumped an angled shot over the bar and for the first time all evening, the raucous Tyrone men gathered on the Hillery Steps – or what Croke Park call the Hogan Stand – fell silent.

Now, Dublin pressed forward, sensing blood, working their way back to parity during injury time. The sight of James McCarthy being carried off with an ankle injury will be a worry. But as a collective Dublin are simply formidable. And they will have heard and heeded this warning shot from Tyrone.

DUBLIN: 1 S Cluxton: 2 P McMahon (0-1), 3 M Fitzsimons, 19 J Cooper (0-1); 5 J McCarthy; 6 J Small; 7 J McCaffrey; 8 B Fenton (0-1), 9 MD MacAuley; 10 N Sully, 11 P Mannion, 12 C Kilkenny (0-1); 17 C Basquel, 14 E O'Gara, 15 D Rock. (0-5 frees).

Substitutes: 4 E Lowndes for 7 C Basquel (half-time), 23 K McManamon for 9 MD MacAuley (44 mins), 18 D Byrne for J McCaffrey (52 mins), C Reddin for P Mannin (53 mins), 13 J Whelan for 6 J Small ( 57 mins), 21 D Daly for J Cooper (59 mins inj.).

TYRONE: 1 N Morgan; 2 P Hampsey, 3 R McNamee, 4 C McCarron; 5 T McCann,, 22 A McCrory (1-0); 25 J McMahon 8 C Cavanagh, 12 D McClure (0-1); 10 C Meyler (0-1), 6 P Harte (0-2 frees),11 N Sludden (0-3); 13 D McCurry, 14 C McShane, 17 M Bradley.

Substitutes: 19 R Brennan for 5 T McCann ( 17 mins Black Card), 20 S Cavanagh for 14 C McShane (half-times), 26 D Mulgrew for, 10 C Meyler (50 mins), 21 C MCCann for 13 D McCurry (62 mins), 9 P McNulty for 12 D McClure (71 mins).

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is a features writer with The Irish Times