To a man, they said it wasn’t easy but it sure looked that way. The kings of one-point All-Ireland final successes, Dublin, could savour this a little earlier.
Unlike that stretch of battles with Mayo, there was no living dangerously here. Sure, John Small was dismissed in additional time after Peter Harte had goaled from a penalty kick and it was twice a four-point game in the seven additional minutes but Tyrone could have had another seven and still wouldn’t have caused an upset.
Dublin weren’t for budging.
If they were for the taking, the suggestion of it was gone by the interval. Tyrone’s contest had ended by that stage, the scoreline reading the same as last year’s semi-final meeting: a seven-point margin. Unlike that All-Ireland semi-final, this one will have cut deep considering how well Tyrone had opened up.
As he did last year, Mickey Harte will try to bargain with what happened. He was already doing it yesterday mentioning incidents around Dublin’s first half goals and he will take solace from Tyrone winning the second half, the first team to edge Dublin in that period since Mayo in the drawn 2016 final.
He too was talking about how mighty Dublin are. They are just that but there is a brittleness about his team that he can’t deny either.
Having kept Dublin to a solitary point early on — a third-minute Dean Rock free — the manner in which they were caught for 1-3 in four minutes will rankle, 1-2 of that tally spawned from Tyrone kick-outs being overturned. One point for the last 21 minutes of the first half also reflected poorly on them.
As Niall Scully palmed the ball to the net in the 28th minute, Tyrone’s mental resilience broke. Two further Rock points followed to leave it 2-7 to 0-6 and for them to find themselves in the exact same position as 13 months ago finished them. As Harte conceded, it was “damage limitation” thereafter.
It looked anything but that after 16 minutes by which stage Tyrone led 0-5 to 0-1. Niall Morgan’s kickouts at that point were on song and Tyrone were making hay on Stephen Cluxton’s before he started to kick short for security’s sake.
Tyrone turnovers were plentiful, the best of them a Kieran McGeary steal on Philly McMahon in the 11th minute. Mark Bradley was waspish around the Dublin full-back line, involved in the opening three scores, Conor Meyler was a dynamo in the middle and Cathal McShane was almost everywhere. Dean Rock was missing frees but then Tyrone were erratic too in their shooting, their nine wides by half-time and 16 overall coming back to haunt them in no small way.
Where the fun ended and the business for Dublin began was in the 19th minute, seconds after Ciarán Kilkenny registered his first point in an All-Ireland final, at the sixth time of asking.
Upon returning to his position on the 45, Morgan kicked directly at him, he fed Con O’Callaghan who in turn supplied Paul Mannion who was impeded illegitimately by Tiernan McCann in the large square just as Mattie Donnelly appeared to have dispossessed him.
Mannion, who had been in the wars early on in making some great contributions in both halves of the field, stepped up to beat Morgan and the game was level. Less than two minutes later and Dublin were two up, Kilkenny teeing up Rock for a point and the pair combining again in that order after Brian Fenton hoovered up another Tyrone kickout.
Cathal McShane notched the next score for Tyrone but Dublin finished out the half with an unanswered 1-3, Jack McCaffrey pointing prior to Scully’s three-pointer, scored after O’Callaghan had offloaded to him despite being fouled, and Rock finishing out the half with a brace of points.
Once more, Tyrone opened up well with scores from Conor McAliskey and Kieran McGeary but Fenton and Brian Howard had cancelled them out by the 40th minute and the margin was six when McGeary was dismissed on a black card offence on Fenton. Tyrone had been riding their luck with checking Dublin runs — Colm Cavanagh had escaped a pull-down in the first half — and it was inevitable that someone was going to be collared.
Dublin had moved towards a keep-ball attitude by then but they were still able to produce some majestic scores like Mannion’s from distance in the 48th minute and Fenton’s coming off the back of a string of passes in the 53rd.
Morgan made a sharp save from Cormac Costello in the 54th minute but such incidents were only small, temporary mercies — Rock was able to send the 45 over the bar and Dublin stretched the gap to eight points.
The margin was that when a slightly despairing Hail Mary was sent into the square where Conor Lane adjudged Philly McMahon had fouled Colm Cavanagh.
Harte rifled the ball to the opposite corner to where Cluxton dived and there was a flicker of belief the finale might be as dramatic as the hurling equivalent two weeks previous.
When Small saw red for a second booking for fouling Harte and Lee Brennan sent over the free, suddenly Dublin’s decision to take off Mannion and Rock looked questionable.
Kevin McManamon, though, produced a point against some stern defending. A hopeful long ball from Pádraig Hampsey sailed over the bar instead of into the mixer and Kilkenny signalled his belief the job was done with a raised clenched fist after his third point before Michael Darragh Macauley fisted over another.
As many had predicted, Dublin’s march towards history took its largest step yet. That it was by the largest final winning margin yet seemed appropriate.
D. Rock (0-7, 3 frees, 1 45); P. Mannion (1-1, 1-0 pen); N. Scully (1-0); C. Kilkenny (0-3); B. Fenton (0-2); J.McCaffrey, B. Howard, K. McManamon, M.D. Macauley (0-1 each).
P. Harte (1-1, 1-0 pen, 0-1 free); L. Brennan (frees), C. McAliskey (1 free) (0-3 each); M. Bradley, C. McShane (0-2 each); T. McCann, K. McGeary, P. Hampsey (0-1 each).
S. Cluxton (c); P. McMahon, C. O’Sullivan, J. Cooper; J. Small, E. Murchan, J. McCaffrey; B. Fenton, J. McCarthy; N. Scully, C. O’Callaghan, B. Howard; P. Mannion, C. Kilkenny, D. Rock.
: M. Fitzsimons for C. O’Sullivan (inj 27); C. Costello for N. Scully (53); K. McManamon for P. Mannion, D. Daly for E. Murchan (inj) (both 58); E. Lowndes for J. Cooper (64); M.D. Macauley for D. Rock (67).
J. Small (second yellow, 70+1).
N. Morgan, R. McNamee, T. McCann, P. Hampsey; M. McKernan, M. Donnelly (c), R. Brennan; C. Cavanagh, C. Meyler; K. McGeary, N. Sludden, C. McShane; M. Bradley, P. Harte, C. McAliskey.
L. Brennan for C. Meyler (40); F. Burns for N. Sludden (46); H. Loughran for K. McGeary (black), R. Donnelly for C. McAliskey (both 49); D. McClure for C. McShane (56); R. O’Neill for M. Bradley (63).
C. Lane (Cork).