By Brendan O'Brien
Dublin 2-17 Tyrone 0-11
It seems laughable to think of it now but this was a summer that started with suggestions that Dublin were slipping back towards the chasing pack thanks to their loss to Kerry in the league final.
Now, here we are, after another bumper weekend in Croke Park with the Kingdom exiled to a winter of discontent and the Dubs back in a third successive All-Ireland final and a fifth in just seven years. If that’s slippage then any progress would be truly terrifying.
The question now is whether Mayo, comprehensive winners at Kerry’s expense on Saturday, have left the rest of the peloton behind and caught up with Dublin. We’ll know the answer to that when the sides meet in the final in three weeks’ time back here at HQ.
On this evidence, they have a mountain to climb.
Tyrone claimed the opening point, a free from Sean Cavanagh after a quick break that was orchestrated by David Mulgrew and ended only with a foul on Mattie Donnelly, but the lead lasted just a minute and it was never coming back.
Conditioned to dominating the agenda with their packed defence and a vaunted ability to break at speed, Tyrone instead found themselves bending to Dublin’s will. The reigning All-Ireland champions simply did as they chose.
The Leinster side dominated possession thanks to Stephen Cluxton’s ever-dependable radar, a dominance in midfield on the northern team’s long kick-outs and a keep-ball approach that was once anathema to the traditions of Gaelic football.
Passes to the side and backwards were de rigeur, Ciaran Kilkenny as ever the man pulling those strings, and there was less than half an hour played when the first chorus of ‘oles’ emanated from the blue hordes.
It wasn’t the least bit premature.
By then they were 1-8 to 0-4 to the good, the goal coming from Con O’Callaghan who zipped through the middle of the Tyrone defence after a sloppy Niall Sludden pass that left his teammates marooned for a split second.
That’s all the Dubs need. O’Callaghan still had work to do but his footwork was sublime. So was a finish rifled into the top right-hand corner of Niall Morgan’s net. It was pretty much the whole half in microcosm.
Time after time Tyrone coughed up easy turnovers as they sought to punch holes in the Dublin defence at pace. Everyone was guilty of it, including their usual spearheads. Sludden, Tiernan McCann, Peter Harte. Everyone.
Acts of defiance were few and far between.
The likes of Sludden and Colm Cavanagh attempted to take the game to the favourites but every little victory was surrounded by a defeat or two and Mickey Harte made the first of his personnel changes with just 30 minutes played.
Down by seven points at the break, the first five minutes of the second-half were possibly Tyrone’s best but even this limited patch of superiority told its own depressing story with them scoring once in five attacks and Dublin claiming the same reward for just the one probe.
By then everything was academic anyway.
Kevin McManamon rattled a crossbar and Jack McCaffrey shanked one wide with just the keeper to beat and there was, amidst it all, the end of an era unfolding when Sean Cavanagh was taken off after 52 minutes.
We’ll not see him on this pitch again.
Dublin did manage a second goal, through Eoghan O’Gara, but the loudest cheer of the afternoon came close to the 70th minute when Diarmuid Connolly’s 12-week suspension for shoving a linesman was ended when Gavin finally released him from the bench.
An almost perfect day for Dublin was capped when Cluxton batted away a Harte penalty in injury-time. And in front of the Hill, too. Ominous.
Scorers for Dublin: C O’Callaghan (1-2); D Rock (0-5, 4 frees); E O’Gara (1-1); P Flynn (0-3); P Andrews (0-2); J McCaffrey, B Fenton, C Kilkenny, P Mannion (all 0-1).
Scorers for Tyrone: P Harte (0-5, 4 frees); N Sludden (0-2); T McCann, C Cavanagh and D McClure (both 0-1); S Cavanagh (0-1 free).
Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon, C O’Sullivan, M Fitzsimons; J Cooper, J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, J McCarthy; C Kilkenny, C O’Callaghan, N SCully; P Mannion, P Andrews, D Rock. Subs: K McManamon for Andrews and P Flynn for Scully (45): D Daly for Small (52); E O’Gara for Rock (62): E Lowndes for Mannion (64); D Connolly for O’Callaghan (70).
Tyrone: N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, P Hampsey, P Harte; C Cavanagh, C McCann; D Mulgrew, N Sludden, K McGeary; M Bradley, S Cavanagh, M Donnelly. Subs: D McClure for C McCann (30); R Brennan for McGeary (HT); D McCurry for Mulgrew (42); R O’Neill for Bradley (50); C Meyler for S Cavanagh (55): P McNulty for McNamee (60).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).