Tyrone rise to occasion but still not enough to drag Dublin down

Jim Gavin’s men maintain unbeaten sequence against rapidly improving Ulster men

 Dublin’s Dean Rock kicks a point to level the game against Tyrone. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Dublin’s Dean Rock kicks a point to level the game against Tyrone. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho


Dublin 0-10 Tyrone 1-07

It may have taken Jim Gavin and Mickey Harte most of Sunday to thaw out from their perishing hour on the sideline of Croke Park on Saturday night but when they have time to think clearly, both will be happy by what transpired. Nothing was lost.

What was gained by Tyrone was further belief that they can run with the big beasts of championship football. Dublin’s gain was that they didn’t lose for the 31st consecutive time in league and championship.

The art of learning how to win was one that Dublin acquired painfully and slowly. Now they have reached the point where it seems that they have forgotten how to lose.

Dean Rock calmly fired two late frees through driving, freezing rain to bring Dublin within touching distance of a game they had been chasing all night.

In the 40th minute, Rock had had his penalty parried by Niall Morgan in a sequence of play which seemed to symbolise that a famous night for Tyrone was on the cards. And just seven minutes later, Aidan McCrory stabbed the game’s only goal past Stephen Cluxton, finishing a sweeping raid initiated by Cathal McCarron, their influential corner-back and featuring the quick, precise hand-passing which has become the hallmark of their team.

They led by 1-6 to 0-4 against the All-Ireland champions with just 15 minutes of normal time remaining. True, Mark Bradley – the least likely red-card recipient on the pitch – received just that in the 51st minute and, true, Joe McQuillan decided that the vitals of the 28,000 could survive a full six minutes of injury time, giving the Dubs time to work their way back.

Killer point

And the eight first-half wides Tyrone fired included a few terrific opportunities. For all the maybes, there was something wonderfully unreasonable about the calm, implacable way in which the Dubs just kept coming for more. They out-scored the visitors by 0-6 to 0-1 over the final quarter and were clearly calibrating for the killer point when the final whistle went.

“It’s never over ’til it’s over,” laughed Mickey Harte.

“No matter how many points you are up against Dublin you know you are always under threat. They are a quality side and are capable of turning things in an instant. The sending off didn’t help and we were a bit wayward in some of our finishing. But I can’t take anything away from our players. They worked their socks off. And there were plenty of reasons why Dublin weren’t on song. They are still very difficult to beat and that’s why they are champions.”

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 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 that required their storming half-backs to break forward to ward off hypothermia as well as to fulfil 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 Templeogue man found himself smothered by white shirts and soon as he caught the ball.

Only blemish

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 masterplan 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 Carrickmore surrounded him.

If there was a problem for Tyrone, it was at the other end of the field. They fired eight wides from play with that significant wind behind them but were rewarded with two wonderful points on the run from Niall Sludden, easily the attacking highlights of the first half.

As Harte acknowledged, 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 passes fell short or were spilled and the intuition and understanding that 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.

Shimmering run

Despite shuffling his personnel, Gavin couldn’t get much 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 back into a four-point lead but Hawkeye called his angled shot wide after 62 minutes. And right then and there, the old familiar strut had returned to Tyrone.

It was the following 10 minutes that most pleased Gavin. From then on, it was all Dublin as Tyrone tried vainly to kill the clock and hang onto their lead.

“It demonstrates the values that team has in sticking with our game plan and go with an attacking brand of football and to keep believing in it. I think that was demonstrated there: last quarter of the game, five points down. We had missed a penalty. And they could have said, ‘well, to hell with this, it’s a cold windy night and I’d prefer to be somewhere else’. But no. They showed great mental resolve. Particularly the players who came in for this game. They made plenty of mistakes, of course they did. But they never gave up.”

Seconds after Sludden’s cancelled shot, Brian Fenton thumped an angled shot over the bar and for the first time all evening, the raucous Tyrone men gathered on the Hillary Step – or what Croke Park call the Hogan Stand – fell silent. The Hill – the true blue fans winter fans – found their voice as they watched their team extend the unbeaten streak. Croke Park has become an endless winter for visiting teams.

DUBLIN: S Cluxton: P McMahon (0-1), M Fitzsimons, J Cooper (0-1); J McCarthy; J Small; J McCaffrey; B Fenton (0-1), MD Macauley; N Sully, P Mannion, C Kilkenny (0-1); C Basquel, E O’Gara, D Rock. (0-5 frees). Substitutes: E Lowndes for Basquel (half-time), K McManamon for Macauley (44 mins), D Byrne for McCaffrey (52 mins), C Reddin for Mannion (53 mins), J Whelan for Small ( 57 mins), D Daly for Cooper (59 mins).

TYRONE: N Morgan; P Hampsey, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, A McCrory (1-0); J McMahon, C Cavanagh, D McClure (0-1); C Meyler (0-1), P Harte (0-2 frees), N Sludden (0-3); D McCurry, C McShane, M Bradley. Substitutes: R Brennan for McCann (17 mins bc), S Cavanagh for McShane (half-time), D Mulgrew for Meyler (50 mins), McCann for D McCurry (62 mins), P McNulty for D McClure (71 mins).

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).

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