For me, this current Dublin team is the best ever and even now — a year out — there’s almost a certain inevitability about the five in a row.
Yesterday’s All-Ireland final went along predicted lines, which has been pretty much the case of the 2018 championship as a whole.
We needed a good final to give a drab enough season a lift. Sadly, we didn’t get it.
Tyrone are athletic, but to beat Dublin you have to be athletic and physical — one out of two is not really going to cut it. They didn’t bring anything overly different to the table yesterday and hadn’t learned that much from last year’s All-Ireland semi-final when Dublin brushed them aside with ease.
Tyrone will have lots of regrets, the biggest one being they didn’t have a full go at it. They started so well, moving 0-5 to 0-1 in front and, at that stage, with their ferocious hunger, it looked as though they were going to make a game of it.
I have never seen a team so rattled by one decision, though. Tyrone seemed to implode when Conor Lane awarded Dublin a penalty after Tiernan McCann was adjudged to have fouled Paul Mannion. On first glance I must admit I thought the decision was extremely harsh but the more I watched it back, the more it looked like the Cork official made the correct call.
That penalty from Mannion got Dublin back into the game and they never looked back from there. Dean Rock settled himself after missing three early frees and they just got into their groove. Their big players, Brian Fenton, Cormac O’Callaghan, Brian Howard, Mannion, Rock, and Jack McCaffrey all had very good games. Dublin’s bench can crucify teams but that’s not something we only became aware of today or yesterday.
On the other hand, whatever hopes of a Tyrone upset were always dependent on the likes of McCann, Mattie Donnelly, Niall Sludden, Peter Harte, and Colm Cavanagh all being on top of their games — but they were all poor in this final.
I cannot understand why Tyrone plonked Cavanagh into the edge of the square in the closing stages and then didn’t kick the ball into him for the next 10 minutes. The two times they went route one to him they managed to win a penalty and a free and put 1-1 on the scoreboard.
If Dublin have a weakness, it’s from high balls into the danger area. We saw it earlier in the summer when Donie Kingston of Laois caused them some bother and Damien Comer from Galway, who is physical but not the tallest, also managed to unsettle them.
Late in the game and with Dublin down to 14 men having had John Small sent off, Tyrone let Stephen Cluxton find his man way too easily. From his 31 kickouts, Dublin won 29 and were almost perfect the longer the game went on, following a couple of stray restarts early in the match.
That provided Dublin with a great platform and with possession so easy to find, particularly late in the game, Jim Gavin’s team were always going to keep the scoreboard ticking over. It’s something they are very, very good at doing.
Tyrone will rue their missed chances. The execution in kicking 16 wides was poor enough but so too was their decision-making leading up to that, particularly when they got into the Dublin 45.
The way teams like Donegal, Monaghan, and Tyrone play, it’s so important to make the right decisions at the right time — Mickey Harte’s men simply just didn’t do that. It was a real let-down from them and that will disappoint them as they make their way home.
Someone needs to step out from the pack. Tyrone will come back again but perhaps they need a fresh approach. Donegal, Galway, and Monaghan aren’t at the very top level and Kerry are still quite young, albeit with some outstanding players breaking through.
It takes us back to Mayo, again. They’re the only team who have put Dublin to anything near the pin of their collar in the last four years and they enjoy those types of helter-skelter games that can unsettle the champions. They’ve been on the road a long time and the challenge for whoever steps in there now will be to see if he can take an experienced group of players to the well one more time.
Even though Dublin will enjoy this victory, with players like Howard and Eoin Murchan, they’re already looking to the future and it looks pretty ominous as there is a real lack of alternatives.
When all is said and done, Dublin are pretty awesome.
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