Dublin 1-14 Tyrone 0-14
Dublin kept their show on the road – literally – with a win in their first away championship fixture in 12 years and confirmation that they will be this year’s first All-Ireland semi-finalists, one match – a definitive dead rubber against Roscommon – ahead of schedule.
On an intense night in Healy Park, Omagh, the champions dealt with the persistent challenge of a Tyrone side, not quite able to beat them but immensely stubborn in sticking to the task and ensuring that the match as a contest didn’t evaporate and diffuse into the summer night.
Defences were generally more on top than the teams’ attacking units, but Dublin crafted enough openings to take the vital scores, including the only goal, by James McCarthy, which ultimately defined the difference between the sides.
Both counties were shadowed by the events of the previous year when a bad start completely defused Tyrone and led to a 12-point beating in what had been an eagerly awaited All-Ireland semi-final.
Mickey Harte had re-drafted his team from that scarifying afternoon to the extent that they started only half of the players who had lined out then. Dublin had all but two.
Technically both sides could have survived defeat, but the implications of this Phase 2 All-Ireland quarter-final encounter were always likely to outstrip the simple matter of who picked up the two points.
For Dublin there was the understanding that their residency at Croke Park would attract more knowing glances had they been beaten on a first visit to opposition territory in the 12 years since Longford pushed them to two points in Pearse Park.
It would also have left a sense of expanded possibility for the other contenders had Jim Gavin’s side lost a first championship match in nearly four years.
In the end Dublin had to face neither of these complications after a performance the key note of which was efficiency rather than extravagance – in keeping with the team's more recent personality, which increasingly favours structured attack and possession football rather than the blitzkrieg of old.
Their forwards work hard but don’t shoot the lights out – not that they’re inaccurate but they’re more measured, their efficiency represented in the total of just four wides.
For Tyrone there was encouraging improvement and a steely refusal to be overwhelmed when trailing by six on 60 minutes.
Battle lines were drawn (literally in that the width of Healy Park was trimmed by about four metres, at broadcaster Sky’s request in order to accommodate their “technology”, according to Harte) in familiar fashion with both sides tightly configured at the back and the early exchanges cagey and tentative. There was also some fine defending from both teams.
Jonny Cooper was exceptional in Dublin's full-back line and delivered one of the team's high-security marking jobs on Connor McAliskey while rookie Eoin Murchan, a week after dealing effectively with Donegal's Ryan McHugh, gave an equally emphatic display on key Tyrone forward Niall Sludden. John Small reprised last year's man-to-man success on Peter Harte, whose influence subsided after a lively opening.
It ticked along, point for point, Harte and Dean Rock swapping early scores and adventurous wing backs Jack McCaffrey and Tiernan McCann doing the same after bursting forward to show their moves.
The first decisive break on the scoreboard came after the 20th minute. The passage of play began with a point from Brian Howard – submitting further evidence for his Young Footballer of the Year claims with a series of catches, possessions and defensive plays from wing forward.
Then came a bravura turnover by Dublin's corner forward Paul Mannion, who effected four in the first half and within whom the spirits of poacher and gamekeeper coexist.
The standout incident involved Cathal McShane who had got free behind the defensive cover and was racing in on goal when the Kilmacud man hunted him down and got a hand in to dispossess.
Immediately afterwards Philip McMahon hit a point, and when Rock kicked a free re-ordered for encroachment, Dublin led by three 0-6 to 0-3. Not for the last time Tyrone rallied and went in at the break behind by 0-5 to 0-7, not unhappy at the score but further depleted in the full-back line, already without the injured Cathal McCarron, when Ronan McNamee had to hobble off.
Niall Morgan saved well but James McCarthy got a hand to the rebound to slap it into the net
McAliskey took a point off the deficit within a minute of the restart but the third quarter was moving time for Dublin. Ciarán Kilkenny, whose keep-ball proficiencies were a lot more urgent this week, answered with a point.
The key score, which separated the teams at the finish, came on the 40th minute. During one of Dublin's exploratory attacks, shifting the ball backwards and forwards and sideways, McCarthy, starting at centrefield, played a 1-2 with Brian Fenton, again a tower of strength in the middle, and surged through the defence for a shot at goal.
Niall Morgan saved well but McCarthy got a hand to the rebound to slap it into the net and suddenly there were five between the teams, 1-8 to 0-7.
They pushed on, adding another three points, with just a McAliskey 45 in reply, to lead by six.
Harte’s team stayed at it even after they had fallen six points behind with an hour on the clock.
His replacements off the bench sparked a revival, however, with Mark Bradley making inroads, and they out-scored Dublin by 0-6 to 0-3 in the closing phase of a gripping contest, with Bradley, Kieran McGeary and Harry Loughran accounting for four of those.
Satisfaction must, however, be tempered by the prospect of having to travel to Ballybofey, more of a fortress venue than Healy Park, to take on their successors as Ulster champions Donegal, in what will be a winner-takes-all climax to Group 2.
DUBLIN: 1. Stephen Cluxton (capt); 7. Jonny Cooper, 4. Philip McMahon (0-1), 24. Eoin Murchan; 22. Jack McCaffrey (0-1), 3. Cian O'Sullivan, 26. John Small (0-1); 6 James McCarthy (1-0), 8. Brian Fenton; 10. Niall Scully, 12. Con O'Callaghan, 5. Brian Howard (0-1); 13. Dean Rock (0-6, four frees), 11. Ciarán Kilkenny (0-2), 14. Paul Mannion. Subs: 18. Cormac Costello for Mannion (46 mins), 23. Kevin McManamon (0-1) for Scully (51 mins), 2. Michael Fitzsimons for McMahon (57 mins), 9. MD Macauley fo McCarthy (68 mins), 20. Paul Flynn (0-1) for Howard (55 mins), 19. Darren Daly for Small (66 mins).
TYRONE: 1. Niall Morgan; 2. Michael McKernan (0-1), 3. Ronan McNamee, 4. HP McGeary; 5. Tiernan McCann (0-1), 10. Matthew Donnelly (capt), 6. Frank Burns (0-1); 8. Colm Cavanagh, 9. Pádraig Hampsey; 7. Peter Harte (0-3, two frees), 12. Conor Meyler, 13. Cathal McShane (0-2); 11. Niall Sludden, 14. Richard Donnelly, 15. Connor McAliskey (0-2, one 45). Subs: 19. Rory Brennan for McNamee (34 mins), 17. Mark Bradley (0-1) for McAliskey (55 mins), 24. Kieran McGeary (0-2) for Burns (56 mins), 22. Declan McClure for Cavanagh (64 mins), 20. Harry Loughran (0-1) for Meyler (65 mins), 26. Ronan O'Neill for Sludden (73 mins).
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).