Dublin 0-18 Tyrone 0-17
Dublin have been the best team in the country this spring and affirmed as much by collecting the silverware yesterday, but only after playing second fiddle to Tyrone for much of this Allianz Football League final.
Mickey Harte’s side had bettered Dublin already this year but they returned to Croke Park as supposed observers to a coronation before suffering the loss of Stephen O’Neill to a freak injury minutes before the throw-in.
The Clann na nGael forward turned an ankle shortly before the off by stepping backwards onto a ball and it was a blow exaggerated by its suddenness as well as the man’s exceptional form in recent months.
The day’s dye seemed cast in front of 33,134 patrons when they fell behind 0-4 to 0-1 towards the end of the first quarter and yet they went blow for blow thereafter, took the lead for the first time 38 minutes in and only fell behind again as the 70th minute dawned.
Mickey Harte understandably focused on the performance rather than the result afterwards but it was rough justice on a Tyrone team that featured just seven of the 20 men who claimed their third All-Ireland title five years ago.
The vast majority of big performances on the day emanated from the Ulster’s side’s ranks with goalkeeper Niall Morgan named as the game’s MVP for his ability to take scores, from dead balls, rather than prevent them. And a gripping end game was denied an even more dramatic last act when referee Marty Duffy neglected to award Tyrone a foul about 55 metres out and right on the edge of Morgan’s range after Sean Cavanagh was clearly barged over by an opponent when in possession.
That said, if it is regrets Tyrone are after they would do well to look no further than the 15 shots they sent wide or short which amounted to almost twice the wastage recorded by Dublin over the 70 minutes.
In every other department, they will find far more succour.
They fielded a full-back line that competed gamely with Dublin’s vaunted threat, a typically influential effort from Sean Cavanagh, a vital contribution from Aidan Cassidy in midfield and shifts of some import from the Donnelly brothers, Mark and Matthew.
Very few of those are household names and the input of Conor McAliskey, who scored three points and did more of note besides after being drafted in for O’Neill, was further indication of Tyrone’s younger generation taking ownership of their team after some time in transition.
Dublin’s delight at securing a first league title since 1993 will be curbed then by the knowledge this was not their finest of afternoons but that undoubtedly says something positive about them too given they still managed to do what they had to when it was most required.
Jim Gavin has talked consistently and cogently about the need to expand his options in the squad and this game was won in no small part by the men he introduced — Dean Rock, Philip McMahon and Shane Carthy among them — as the clock wound down.
The sides had been level seven times already before Dean Rock tipped the scales one last, definitive time with a brace of exceptional long-range efforts no more than 10 minutes after replacing Bernard Brogan who was kept scoreless from play.
Brogan contributed with five frees and most of them emanated from fouls drawn by Dublin players powering through the Tyrone rearguard and on a platform built by the dynamic Michael Darragh Macauley.
Tyrone went some way to nullifying that threat by bringing in Aidan Cassidy to shadow the Ballyboden midfielder and he did so to great effect before Macauley limped off midway through the second-half.
His loss came at a time when the tide seemed to be turning against Dublin with Brogan and Cluxton skewing a pair of frees wide and Cathal McCarron denying Kevin McManamon and Brogan a goal with a tackle and block within seconds of one another.
A first league title in 10 years looked well within their grasp at that point but they will nevertheless travel to Ballybofey to take on Donegal’s All-Ireland champions with a belief buttressed by events in HQ yesterday while Dublin turn to the summer with a trophy in the bag and a timely reminder of how much further they have to go.
Not the worst day for either of them, then.
Scorers for Dublin: B Brogan 0-5fs, P Mannion 0-4 (1f), D Connolly, D Rock 0-2 each, S Cluxton (f), J McCaffrey, B Cullen, P Andrews, P McMahon 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tyrone: N Morgan 0-5 (4fs, 1 45), S Cavanagh 0-4 (1f), C McAliskey 0-3, M Penrose 0-2fs, C Gormley, Matthew Donnelly, Mark Donnelly 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; K O’Brien, J Cooper, D Daly; J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey; MD Macauley, C O’Sullivan; J Whelan, P Andrews, B Cullen; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan.
Subs: S Carthy for Whelan (35), D Bastick for O’Sullivan (48), P McMahon for Macauley (53), D Rock for Brogan (58).
TYRONE: N Morgan; C McCarron, C Clarke, PJ Quinn; C Gormley, D Carlin, Matthew Donnelly; C Cavanagh, Joe McMahon; Mark Donnelly, S Cavanagh, Justin McMahon; P McNeice, C McAliskey, M Penrose.
Subs: A Cassidy for Carlin (32), P Kane for Justin McMahon (35), K Coney for McNeice (58), R McKenna for Gormley (66), D McCurry for Cassidy (71).
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).
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