Struggling as we are for an original metric to measure this Dublin football team by, perhaps the candidates for an All-Ireland final man of the match offers an informative perspective.
Jim Gavin hates these thing, we reckon. The idea of any one player superseding his colleagues would be anathema to the manager who has nurtured a culture of system over solo.
At Croke Park yesterday Ciaran Kilkenny, James McCarthy, Brian Fenton, Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion could hardly lay claim to have lit the occasion with a sorcerer’s wand, but each in his own way shaped the afternoon Dublin joined the pantheon of great sides to have claimed four All- Irelands on the bounce.
Was this Dublin side always so liberally sprinkled with natural, forceful leaders, or does the absence of same among some of the chasing pack only accentuate the difference in altitude now between Dublin and the rest?
The joy of a Floor 7 helicopter view at Croke Park is the stuff away from the camera lens.
Fitzsimons resetting the defence though the ball is in the far corner of the stadium. ‘Drop another few yards Niall’ (Scully), he seemed to be saying.
52 minutes in and the champions are flat out refusing to be chased into the shot. Brian Fenton makes one, two, three, then a fourth different run before the correct channel presents itself. Point. Paul Mannion, he of the electric attacking heels, sniffing danger back in his own full back line – yes full back line – and rookie wing forward Brian Howard, soaring above colleagues and Colm Cavanagh in those dangerous final passages to defuse Tyrone momentum.
The mobility of body, flexibility of mind and thought is yesterday’s news in terms of the points of differentiation with this group, but they are still the fundamentals. At some point, Gavin will walk or the chemistry in the group will be less potent than it is now, but unless contradictory evidence presents itself, it’s not enough to dismiss the manager’s post-match pap because the man is actually telling it like it is.
The idea of 13-a-side football has been floated in the wearying debate about increasing thrills and spills, but shortening the game time is no more loopy. At this juncture, 70 minutes – 80 minutes really – is just too long for any side to first contain, then overcome this Dublin squad.
That man of the match?
If the GPS units are the barometer, perhaps Kilkenny, McCaffrey or James McCarthy, but as much as metres run, it’s about metres tracked and opposition tagged.
For the greater part of yesterday’s engaging All-Ireland football final, Tyrone asked Dublin some proper, persistent questions. The frustration for the neutral nation is that in these monopolous times, Dublin find the answers all too readily.
And in their own good time.
Manager Jim Gavin tipped his hat afterwards to the poise of his players in that frenetic first 15 minutes when Tyrone set off at a breathless clip, posting a 0-5 to 0-1 lead. Niall Morgan’s kickouts were finding red hands, and Tyrone spooked Stephen Cluxton – making his 200th league and championship appearance – into one kickout out of over the Hogan stand touchline.
In the metric of these things, it was equal to a Tyrone score. The ingredients for an interesting cocktail were being stirred.
Head-scratcher: How ravenous are those Dublin players, even after six Sam Maguires in eight summers? One iffy Morgan kickout and a blue swarm tees up Mannion for the goal chance, Tiernan McCann conceding the penalty in an attempt to preserve the relevance of Tyrone’s electric start.
The resultant goal offered the single most damaging stimulant available to Dublin footballers – momentum. Eight minutes later they’d claimed a second via Niall Scully, and in the press room afterward Mickey Harte is still wondering how Tyrone found themselves 2-5 to 0-6 down after 27 minutes.
Harte had matched up Pádraig Hampsey on Paul Mannion, and Tiernan McCann on Ciaran Kilkenny.
Mark Bradley was causing problems for the Dublin full back line and Kieran McGeary was cannoning into Dublin’s heroes with the ferocity of a Mack truck. Colm Cavanagh was sitting deep – too deep perhaps – but in spite of all that, Dublin led 2-7 to 0-6 at the interval.
What could Tyrone have done better? Or different?
The second half’s scoring sequence was too uniform and linear for a man like Harte. Dublin with an arm’s length edge throughout, 2-9 to 0-9 after 40 minutes, 2-12 to 0-11 after 52. Wasn’t it worth pitching Colm Cavanagh in on top of McMahon and Fitzsimons earlier than the last 10 minutes, when the midfielder caused the first bout of panic in blue all day?
By that stage, Tyrone were on their way to accumulating 16 wides. Before referee Conor Lane — who had a good afternoon — correctly called the Dublin defenders for manhandling Cavanagh to the ground for a 66th minute penalty converted by Peter Harte, Tyrone had not created a single goal chance. The manager was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
“It’s one of those things with hindsight you might say would have been a good idea,” Harte mused after.
It’s not what we usually base our game around, we don’t normally have that kind of personnel in around the box that you would play that kind of ball into. But you might say we could have done it a bit earlier, but would that have affected our rearguard?
For a brief minute, at the beginning of seven minutes of injury time, the leeway was four points, 2-14 to 1-13, but Dublin’s transition from defence to attack scoffed at the idea of a team tightening up with history in the offing. Michael Darragh MacAuley, Ciarán Kilkenny et al broke for three more points. The drive for five is alive.
“Our competitors will have looked on, they will be planning,” Gavin said.
There are a lot of changes in backroom teams in other counties so other teams will be gearing for their campaign already (while) we’re finishing our campaign. We won’t even step into that space (of five in a row) – it’s about living in the moment.
The portents are encouraging. When Mick O’Dwyer’s Golden Years Kerry team turned the corner into 1982, they had crested and went in search of a glorious finishing line. This Dublin group doesn’t look anything like as sated – and there’s a lot more where Eoin Murchan and Brian Howard came from.
Before the game yesterday we broke bread with a former Dublin player who is peripherally involved in the underage development squads. A youngster of 14 getting feedback forms to fill out after coaching sessions. Satisfaction. Things learned. Understanding. The future has a blue hue to it.
Everyone else is running harder to just keep up.