Dublin 2-13 Tyrone 1-11
If Saturday's Allianz Football League Division One encounter in Omagh, before a crowd of 9,465, represented an improvement for Tyrone on last August's All-Ireland semi-final apocalypse, it also marked a departure from the spring tradition of finely balanced competitiveness that has marked this fixture in recent years.
That may have been nearly as depressing as the blowout of five months previously because on this occasion, the Ulster champions – fielding eight of their championship 15 as against 11 for Dublin – got the good start so conspicuously lacking last year and maintained a decent lead into the second quarter.
Yet Dublin reeled the game back in, neutralised the opposition and pushed for home in the last 10 minutes, sealing the deal with a second goal courtesy of two replacements: Colm Basquel, who intercepted a Tyrone 1-2 out of defence, and Eoghan O'Gara, applying the coup de grace much as he did last summer.
“Tyrone got that 1-1 inside the first five minutes,” said a satisfied Jim Gavin afterwards, reflecting on a second league win. “I think just how this Dublin team responds to that – they just roll up their sleeves and get on with it. That’s to their credit and no matter what has happened in the game they are just playing the next passage of play.
“They are very adaptable, very present in the game and not looking too beyond the next actual phase of play. So whether we are up or down, half-time is only a break in play anyway. I thought we did really well to bring the scores back after about 25 minutes. Obviously Tyrone finished well in the first half, but it was a difficult goal to score into.
“For the most part they had 13 of their 14 out-field players behind the ball and yet we got a goal and a couple of scores, so we could be very pleased with that.
“I just thought in the second half we played very controlled football, thought our hand-passes for the conditions like they were, were on the money.
“We’ve just returned, the skill set, the fundamentals of our game were solid tonight and defensively we kept them scoreless until the 63rd minute; our accuracy of the boot – 1-8 and no wides in the second half in the first week of February – you’ve got to be happy with that.”
Dublin's probing, recycling game looked less masterful when they were chasing the game but as with the champions' opening fixture against Kildare, they simply kept going, raising the tempo and finding the scores whereas Tyrone blazed away a host of scoring opportunities – finishing with 13 wides to Dublin's two – and didn't score for 28 minutes into the second half until Niall Sludden finally rapped a point off the posts. Nearly 20 of those minutes saw the visitors reduced to 14 men after Niall Scully's second yellow card.
"I think we battled well in that game," said manager Mickey Harte afterwards before accepting: "We had chances galore before we even got the first score of the second half. We missed about 1-7 or 1-8 in the second half. Half of that would have made some difference come the end of that game.
“But we didn’t get them. At least we were creating chances. At least we were competitive and I think the players could hold their heads high despite we haven’t got any points out of this.”
Threatening up front
That might be finely sieving it but there were some positives for Tyrone. Lee Brennan was lively and threatening up front, conjuring a dummy that All Star Michael Fitzsimons instinctively bought and pointing in the 26th minute. They also managed the Stephen Cluxton kick-outs better, exerting pressure without over-committing.
Cathal McShane opened the match with 1-1 in the first five minutes, the goal well finished after Connor McAliskey's hand pass had sent him clear. Dublin were struggling at this stage.
Their fullbacks looked distracted when Brennan and McAliskey came at them and the team's two most powerful dynamos, James McCarthy and Brian Fenton took time to adjust to conditions on a wet and cold night and a sticky surface.
As Gavin said though, his team’s composure in taking scores, from Dean Rock’s frees to some fine shooting, especially a point from out on the left by Ciarán Kilkenny, kept the match on a tight leash.
It was Kilkenny who changed the contest in the 22nd minute. His manager afterwards praised his versatility after the player had put in some productive moments in the full-forward line, chiefly beating Aidan McCrory to a dropping free from Fenton, breaking the ball to himself and rifling it past Niall Morgan.
Tyrone responded but as long as it was a one- or two-point contest Dublin would be comfortable. Kilkenny rattled the crossbar with a second goal opportunity and at half-time the home side led 1-7 to 1-5.
Like Kildare a week previously, Tyrone’s inability to stay with the All-Ireland champions cost them the match. Remorselessly, Dublin clicked off five points to lead by three even though they were down to 14 men by this stage. They had chances. As well as the attempted points kicked wide, a sweeping move from their own goal culminated in McAliskey one on one with Cluxton but the keeper blocked the shot.
With McCarthy and Fenton now operating near their best, Dublin were composed on the ball and pressed constructively. There were a few half-hearted scuffles referee Maurice Deegan issued a handful of yellow cards for – two of which Scully got – but Healy Park has seen worse between the counties.
Tyrone nabbed three of the last four points in injury-time but it was all over by then.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; P McMahon, M Fitzsimons, D Daly; J McCarthy (0-1), J Cooper, J Small; B Fenton (0-1), MD Macauley; N Scully, C Kilkenny (1-2), B Howard; K McManamon (0-2), P Mannion, D Rock (0-4, three fress). Subs: D Byrne for Small (46 mins), P Andrews for McManamon (52 mins), C Basquel (0-3, one free) for Mannion (61 mins), E O'Gara (1-0) for Rock (64 mins), S Carthy for McCarthy (68 mins), E Lowndes for Fenton (69 mins),
TYRONE: N Morgan; P Hampsey, C McCarron, HP McGeary; T McCann, A McCrory, C McLaughlin; M Donnelly, C McShane (1-1), D McClure; M Donnelly, N Sludden (0-1), R Donnelly; C McAliskey (0-2), L Brennan(0-6, three frees), P Harte (0-1). Subs: M McKernan for McGeary (22 mins), R McNamee for McCrory (half-time), C McCann for McClure (49 mins), R McNabb for McLaughlin (55 mins), F Burns for R Donnelly (55 mins), M Bradley for T McCann (62 mins).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).