There were a few surreal moments during yesterday’s game but the one that stood out for me was when Tyrone fans starting booing Dublin for holding onto the ball.
It said a lot about them and so much about Dublin’s patience, which was almost sickeningly good at times.
The first thing Tyrone had to do to win was to start well. Instead, they did the opposite. They were cagey and nervous at the beginning, looking like a team that hadn’t played at this level in a while.
Dublin, on the other hand, were unbelievably composed. Their movement early on was top class.
They really earned the right to move the ball around. They’re under no obligation to the media, supporters, or any observer to play expansive, off-the-cuff football.
The word I would associate with them most is ‘stubborn’. This streak in them developed against Derry in the league two years ago. It was then that Jim Gavin decided if teams were going to set up defensively against Dublin then he would format his team the same way, only do it better.
As soon as the first goal was scored in the fifth minute, the game was effectively over for Tyrone, who never looked like they were going to penetrate Dublin enough to trouble them.
Mark Bradley might as well not have got off the bus as he had such a little part to play. Tyrone have obviously seen their system as a tactic that will get them somewhere but truly it was only so far.
Their athleticism and physicality was not what it needed to be to play against the likes of the Dubs.
They will have learned a lot of lessons from what happened. They will learn from them and they will be back to challenge having a better idea of what it takes to contest with Dublin. I think everybody now has a better idea of what it takes to play Gaelic football.
A transition to the blanket defence has now been replaced by a transition to play football on the front foot.
Intelligent and measured are other words I would associate with this Dublin display. One of their most important players was John Small who truly negated what Peter Harte had to offer. When he’s not in the game Tyrone normally struggle and it was the first time all year that Harte hasn’t had a great game.
Colm Cavanagh was probably the only Tyrone player who looked the part but then he was lucky not be sent off for his karate kick at the end of the first half. Niall Sludden was decent but nothing special.
Going into this game, I still wasn’t sure about Con O’Callaghan but he showed he’s more than capable of playing at this level. For such a young player, he has a lot of know-how.
This was nothing but a speed bump on the road for Dublin. Their sights are firmly set on Mayo now who will at least match them athletically. What will push them in the coming three weeks is the Dublin bench, two of whom, former footballers of the year Bernard Brogan and Michael Darragh Macauley, were not used. They walked straight to the dressing room at the final whistle and looked really disappointed. I can only imagine how hungry they will be in the weeks ahead.
I don’t understand why Jim Gavin didn’t give Diarmuid Connolly more than five minutes. If they are going to win an All-Ireland they will need him, but then Connolly risked a cumulative ban if he picked up a third black card and another disciplinary case is the last thing Gavin would want heading into the final. Dublin can’t fly under the radar but Gavin will do his best to ensure they at least try.
On almost every count Dublin are the definition of professionalism and you’ve got to admire that. They did give a bit of ball away at times and the derision across the field when that happened was palpable. It was as if the rest of the team were saying: “You don’t need to be punch holes. Be patient and eventually they will open up.”
Mayo people will take great heart from what they saw of their team on Sunday but Dublin will play them any way they want to play. Considering what Tyrone presented yesterday, Gavin may have felt he had overprepared his team.
It would have been drilled into them for some time to rework and recycle the ball. They look unshackled not being obliged to entertain or live up to the free-flowing football Dublin have been known for in the past. Sometimes you can’t get sucked into feeling you have to live up to that, but Dublin no longer feel the need.
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