Fake football was the order of the day in Omagh as the biggest indictment of a Championship format unfit for purpose was served up.
Neither team nor management could be faulted for what transpired - their races to All-Ireland semi-finals had been completed two weeks ago - but this was a fixture they intended merely fulfilling.
Six and seven days out from those games, it was clear they weren’t going to risk becoming victims of their own success and so they turned out their alternative teams. Those from the Kerry and Mayo camps in Healy Park in a watching brief would have learned nothing - what Dublin and Tyrone dish out to them next weekend will be considerably spicier.
Jim Gavin’s named team suggested he would send out more of his front-liners but by the time throw-in came around he started two of those who began the win over Roscommon in the previous game with all six used substitutes that day also beginning here. Mickey Harte, on the other hand, chose to go with an entirely different starting 15 to that which saw off Cork last day out.
Neither manager is a fool. Gavin had taken full advantage of Peadar Ó Cofaigh-Byrne’s U20 commitments ending on Saturday to include him in his panel yesterday - up to then he wasn’t allowed by rule. He and Mickey Harte had also exercised the emergency substitute goalkeeper rule to give Stephen Cluxton and Niall Morgan the afternoon off, Michael Shiel and Cormac Quinn taking their places on the bench.
Harte made no apologies for resting up the likes of Cathal McShane, Mattie Donnelly and Colm Cavanagh before taking on Kerry. At the same time, he maintained the game had value in its own right. “There mightn’t have been much at stake here but I think... did people not enjoy that today? Did people not come along here in droves and enjoy that or were they bored out of their head watching that game?
“It was interesting for the people who were there, the players didn’t show any sign of ‘I wish we weren’t here’ or ‘this is no big significant game’ they gave it all they had and I think that’s lovely on a summer day in Omagh to see 15,000 (15,315) people here. I enjoyed that game today, even if I didn’t enjoy the outcome.”
But arriving early into Omagh yesterday, it was clear the only buzz about the place was for the return of Diarmuid Connolly and while that was enough to satisfy the blue caravan that made its way north his presence in the team alone wasn’t going to lend to a full-blown game.
Long before throw-in, Tyrone were thinking and talking about Kerry, although Harte insisted otherwise. “There was no dead rubber in that game. We didn’t take it that way. It was a question of who would be top of the group and who would be second.
“Obviously, we have been on the road for five weeks and most of our players have played most of that game-time so it was an opportunity to give them a rest and to give the players who had been looking for more gametime during that run; ‘here’s your chance, against the top team in the country’.
“And we know Dublin didn’t put out their first team either. But at the same time you are playing against a high standard when you are playing against anyone who puts on a Dublin jersey.
“I’ve always been a fan of not having the old style quarter-finals where provincial champions could fall on their sword in one day. I never thought that to be fair.
“I had various permutations to make it different but nobody ever listened to me, so the Super 8s is the thing that came up here and I’m happier with that because you get a chance to be beaten and still stay in the competition.”
Gavin wasn’t really in the mood to give his two cents on structures or schedules, not even as Dublin face into a s ix-day turnaround to an All-Ireland semi-final for the second year in a row.
“No, for every team, there’s a day or two in between the amount of rest they get. So it’s the same for all teams, really. I don’t think anyone has an advantage over anyone else. It is what it is.”
The little that could be said about this affair revolved around Connolly and the impressiveness of Seán Bugler, who helped himself to three points and squared the handpass for Eoghan O’Gara to score the game’s solitary goal in additional time.
Harte protested that green flag put a harsh reflection on the scoreboard but Dublin were rarely in bother, not in the first half after which they led by three points - 0-8 to 0-5 - and not when Conall McCann shook the crossbar in the 44th minute - Dublin followed it up with two goal chances prior to O’Gara’s palm to the net.
Connolly grew more comfortable as the game wore on but the pressure put on him was minimal. Kicking a poor wide and a shot short in the first half, he was pulling the strings more in the second half and took a good score in the 58th minute after completing a swift one-two move.
His black card for bringing down Ciarán McLaughlin hardly spoiled what was a celebratory day for the Dubs who made their presence felt behind the goal their team kicked into in the second half. Beforehand, they had cheered as he put the ball to the net in a drill.
This was a day to be buoyant about a returning hero. Next Saturday it’s back to business.
C. McAliskey (0-5, 2 frees); K. Coney (frees), R. Donnelly (0-2 each); N. Sludden, C. McCann, R. Grugan, D. McCurry (0-1 each).
C. Costello (0-6, 4 frees); S. Bugler (0-3); E. O’Gara (1-0); K. McManamon, P. Small (0-2 each); B. Brogan, P. Andrews, D. Connolly (0-1 each).
B. Gallen; P. Hampsey, C. McLaughlin, M. Cassidy; A. McCrory; T. McCann, M. Cassidy, C. Grugan; B. McDonnell, D. McClure; R. Donnelly, K. Coney; D. Mulgrew, C. McCann; C. McAliskey.
H.P. McGeary for P. Hampsey (h-t); R. Brennan for M. Cassidy (inj 38); B. Kennedy for R. Donnelly (40); M. McKernan for T. McCann (56); D. McCurry for C. McCann (57); N. Sludden for D. Mulgrew (69).
E. Comerford; R. O’Carroll; A. McGowan, D. Byrne; E. Lowndes, J. Cooper (c), E. Murchan; D. Connolly, J. McCarthy; R. McDaid, C. Costello, S. Bugler; K. McManamon, P. Small, P. Andrews. Subs for Dublin: P. McMahon for D. Byrne, M.D. Macauley for J. McCarthy (both h-t); B. Brogan for J. Cooper, E. O’Gara for P. Small (both 44); P. Ó Cofaigh-Byrne for C. Costello (68).C. O’Connor for R O’Carroll (70); D. Connolly black (black 69, not replaced).
J. McQuillan (Cavan).