Allianz FL Division 1
Dublin 0-10 Tyrone 1-7
Serene in victory against Cavan in week one, it was stubbornness that preserved Dublin’s unbeaten run on Saturday.
Down by five points with 20 minutes of normal time to play on the sort of dirty night when any score carried a currency far beyond the usual market value, the league and All-Ireland champions kept Tyrone out for the remainder and eventually landed a 76th-minute equaliser.
There was more than their grit and perseverance to it, of course.
Tyrone lost Mark Bradley to a red card midway through the second period, and the visitors will rue their lack of accuracy in front of goal all night, but Dublin could have pointed in mitigation to plenty of their own issues had their unprecedented unbeaten run failed to hit 31.
Dean Rock landed six frees but had a 40th-minute penalty batted away by Niall Morgan after Paul Mannion had been dragged down by Sean Cavanagh and, with Aidan McCrory landing the game’s only goal seven minutes later, Dublin had their excuse to check out.
The case for their defence had that happened would have been watertight.
The Leinster side were still deep in celebration mode after their back-to-back All-Ireland triumph when Tyrone turned their minds to the pre-Christmas O’Fiach Cup and the Ulster champs were bagging yet another McKenna Cup while Dublin were off on their holidays.
So, that they clawed a draw out of this, on the back of three weeks’ work, is no small thing.
Jim Gavin has consistently dodged any detailed discussion on his side’s unbeaten league and championship run, one which is now only a handful of weeks off the two-year mark, but he acknowledged it’s worth after this latest extension.
“To them, it probably demonstrates the values, the environment, the culture that the team has in terms of sticking with our particular game plan and our process that we’ve spoken a lot about.
“We’ve played a lot of teams that don’t believe that’s the way the game should be played but certainly we believe you should go at the game and that was demonstrated there in the last quarter of the game, when we were five points down and had missed a penalty.
“They could have said, ‘to hell with this, it’s a cold windy night in Dublin and I’d prefer to be somewhere else’. But, no, they showed great mental character once again, great mental resolve — particularly the players that came into the game.”
Mickey Harte admitted that this had been a good time to catch Dublin and a look at the teams which Gavin started and finished with emphasised that, with Eoghan O’Gara, Colm Basquel, Niall Scully, Darren Daly, and Ciaran Reddin all availing of rare runs.
Scully’s evening was a measure of the difference between this one and the stroll in Breffni Park seven days earlier.
He scored two points and got the man of the match nod in Cavan but he could claim neither honour this time.
Tyrone are considerably farther down the line than their Ulster brethren. Their defensive organisation and ability to break on the counter is finely-tuned and, if they still lack a top-class forward or two, it still made for a searching examination of Dublin.
The visitors led by three at the break after playing with the strong wind at their backs and it would have been more only for eight wides and a handful of shots that found Stephen Cluxton’s arms. A black card for Tiernan McCann was the only other blot on their copybook.
This being February, any conclusions must be delivered gingerly but this was a welcome show of intent and execution by Tyrone on the back of a first provincial title in six years last summer and a one-point All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Mayo.
In the likes of Declan McClure, Niall Sludden, and Cathal McShane, Tyrone had young and inexperienced men standing up and making a discernible impact against the country’s best team, even if it is still minus notable faces.
St Vincent’s loss to Slaughtneil earlier on Saturday will release Diarmuid Connolly back to the county panel sooner rather than later, Cian O’Sullivan is already back training after his travels and Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn are two more yet to clock in.
Plenty to warm the cockles in Dublin hearts, so, despite the stuttering performance, but the sight of a side deemed to be one of their closest pursuers coming within minutes of their scalp adds intrigue to the season ahead.
Scorers for Dublin: D Rock (0-6 frees); P McMahon, J Cooper, B Fenton, C Kilkenny (all 0-1 each).
Scorers for Tyrone: A McCrory (1-0); N Sludden (0-3); P Harte (0-2 frees); C Meyler and D McClure (both 0-1).
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; P McMahon, M Fitzsimons, J Cooper; J McCarthy, J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, MD Macauley; C Basquel, C Kilkenny, N Scully; D Rock, E O’Gara, P Mannion.
Subs: E Lowndes for Basquel (HT); K McManamon for Macauley (44); C Reddin for Mannion and D Byrne for McCaffrey (both 51); J Whelan for Small (57); D Daly for Cooper (59).
TYRONE: N Morgan; P Hampsey, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, A McCrory, J McMahon; C McMahon, D McClure; C Meyler, N Sludden, P Harte; D McCurry, M Bradley, C McShane.
Subs: R Brennan for McCann (17); S Cavanagh for McShane (HT); J Monroe for McMahon (47); D Mulgrew for Meyler (51); C McCann for McCurry (62).; P McNulty for McClure (72).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved