Regardless of the final, 2018 will not go down as a vintage year for football, writes Paddy Kelly.

In fact, if the All-Ireland final produces the drab affair we are fearing, the football championship will go down as one of the most pedestrian and least enjoyable in living memory.

Not that Mickey Harte or Jim Gavin will care one iota. Both managers will do whatever it takes to get over the line. For Jim Gavin, it’s all about the process and the next step in a bid for four-in-a-row.

For Mickey Harte, a first All-Ireland final appearance in 10 years and a chance to claim Sam Maguire for the fourth time as manager.

Our enjoyment doesn’t come into the equation. All we have is hopes and fears.

Stick or twist for Tyrone?

Tyrone’s tactical approach in recent years has generally been to retreat inside their own 65’, look to swarm-tackle, force turnovers, and counter-attack at pace.

Against Monaghan, however, they adapted and besides the sweeping Colm Cavanagh, they were aggressive far higher up the pitch. This approach worked as the Farney men employ a similarly cautious approach and therefore lacked the option of kicking beyond the press. Against Dublin, they will face a very different animal.

Colm Cavanagh, the August footballer of the month
Colm Cavanagh, the August footballer of the month
 

The champions tend to put numbers ahead of the ball as much as possible giving depth and width to their play. Pressing high against Dublin will require an enormous work-rate and athleticism to track runners and put pressure on the ball. It will also allow pockets of space for kick-passes to a continuously rotating Dublin forward line.

Harte will fear giving the likes of Dean Rock, Paul Mannion and Con O’Callaghan space to isolate their markers in one-v-one situations. Therefore, it’s likely Harte will return to the more defensive system that has served him so well.

He could, in fact, take Jim McGuiness’ recent advice and take it to the extremes as Donegal did in 2011 and position as much as 11 men inside their own 45 with the other four players advancing no further than their own 65. Given the chastening experience at the hands of Dublin last year, I wouldn’t rule it out.

Can Tyrone’s aggression and physicality upset Dublin?

Since the beginning of 2015, one team has stood above the rest in terms of pushing Dublin to their limit — Mayo. Their abrasive and aggressive style both on and off the ball has ruffled this Dublin team.

Tyrone, like all top teams (Dublin included), push the boundaries in terms of physicality.

Despite the introduction of the black card we can still expect to see players being body-checked, grappled and wrestled when attempting to make support runs off the ball. Stopping the likes Jack McCaffrey, James McCarthy and Brian Fenton building up a head of steam will be of the upmost importance to Tyrone’s defensive plan.

The willingness of the linesmen and umpires to alert referee Conor Lane to goings-on off the ball and his own judgments on same will dictate what kind of atmosphere the game is played in.

Dublin’s swashbuckling approach has been altered to a more methodical and efficient approach, guaranteeing maximum returns.

Dublin will maintain patience at all times, keeping width and depth to their attack trying to create space for one-on-ones or runners coming through the middle.

They have reacted to opposition teams’ blanket defences by refusing to play long, hopeful balls into the inside line, or taking on low percentage shots or the worst crime of all, taking ball into contact and conceding a turnover.

Dublin do the basics so well under pressure. They work the ball around until it is statistically likely to produce a score. A return of 1-9 from 12 attempts in the first-half against Galway underlines their ruthless efficiency.

Will Tyrone hammer the hammer?

The Dublin players are so experienced at this stage that they can adapt and overcome any obstacles presented to them. The one facet of their game that causes serious issues if rattled is Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs.

Stephen Cluxton
Stephen Cluxton

The ownership and command he has over the restarts is second to none. There are no calls or signals, just movement. Like a quarter-back he makes the final decision. The end result is usually Dublin possession and another attack.

To apply pressure on the Dublin kick-outs demands a full-court press from Tyrone. They tried this tactic against Monaghan in the semi-final but Rory Beggan simply bypassed them at his ease. This will leave Tyrone open to quick attacks from Dublin against a chasing defence as opposed to an organised defence lying in-wait.

As a result, I fear Philly McMahon and Johnny Cooper will be winning a lot of handy short kickouts for Dublin.

Can Dublin squeeze Tyrone into submission?

Dublin’s aggressive attacking press on opposition kick-outs has been highlighted as one of their key weapons in dominating teams. Strangely against Galway, they didn’t squeeze Ruairí Lavelle’s kick-out to the same extent in the first half and as a result, the Tribesmen were able to gain equilibrium in terms of possession.

Despite having an excellent place-kicker in Niall Morgan, Tyrone don’t have a particularly impressive kick-out strategy.

Given the distance on Morgan’s kickouts, Tyrone may look to invite Dublin’s high press and bypass them as Paul Durcan did to such great effect in that infamous 2014 semi-final.

This perhaps explains Dublin’s hesitance with the high squeeze against Galway as they looked to get a half-back retreating to sweep as soon as Lavelle kicked out.

Four years may have passed but don’t expect Dublin to fall for the same trick twice. Expect Brian Fenton and James McCarthy to break their fair share of Morgan’s long kickouts and the hardworking half-forward line of Brian Howard, Ciarán Kilkenny and Niall Scully to hoover up breaking ball.

Our enjoyment doesn’t come into the equation... 

Verdict

Everything points to a Dublin victory. My initial feelings after their respective semi-finals — and taking into consideration the Super 8 encounter in Omagh — was that a seven- or eight-point victory for the Dubs was on the cards.

Even imagining Tyrone getting a good start and containing Dublin for the opening half, I can’t see them lasting the pace once Dublin call on the cavalry in the final quarter.

Expect the talk to start tomorrow evening about the drive for five.

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