Dublin 1-9, Tyrone 0-12: Sometimes it’s as much what you don’t say as what you do.
Asked in the aftermath of Saturday evening’s claustrophobic Croke Park encounter — which contained just 11 scores from play — if he could envisage Dublin ever playing a containment game like Tyrone’s, Jim Gavin briefly replied, ‘No’.
Gavin, if it wasn’t already quite clear by Dublin’s performances in the last two years, has little or no time for stifling tactics.
But the Dublin manager is consistently coming up against them and finding the going difficult. The last northern team to defend so regimentally against Dublin at Croke Park was Donegal last August.
Donegal famously won that game and Tyrone would have done so on Saturday too but for Dean Rock conjuring a 69th minute levelling goal.
In the short-term, it saved Dublin from a third defeat in four games and the point could yet spare the holders from relegation.
The bigger picture is that it was one more reminder of the lengths modern teams will go to in order to be successful.
“We saw in the All-Ireland final how that went,” shrugged Gavin. “I don’t know if that’s the template for the future but if you’re asking me if I expect it, it can go either way really.
“We experienced something similar, not to that extent, in the last eight to 10 minutes last week when quite a defensive wall went up. And the same against Cork as well.
“Teams are doing it and it’s great to experience it. Sometimes you got to go through a choppy sea to improve. It’s great for the players, great for the management, there is great learning in it.”
Privately, and without the cloak of diplomacy, Gavin will surely admit he is frustrated with the path Gaelic football is going down.
Put to him that the introduction of the black card was trumpeted as the saviour of attacking football, he shrugged again.
“Gaelic football has evolved this way,” he said. “It might come back again the other way but managers are playing under the rules and the players are playing under the rules. Whether it’s pretty on the eye...I suppose the All-Ireland champions don’t really mind. The counties who win the All-Irelands and win the cups, they don’t mind. They’re just happy with victory.”
Gavin’s task is to devise a plan to break down teams like Tyrone, Donegal and, when they play that way, Kerry.
Dublin didn’t punch too many holes in Tyrone’s ordered rearguard and kicked just five points from play before Eoghan O’Gara recycled possession at the death to set up Rock’s fisted equaliser.
Free-taker Rock was always likely to be Dublin’s key man. As the hosts probed Tyrone’s congested defence, they won several frees which the Ballymun man converted, four in the first-half.
The game opened up slightly in the third quarter and Tyrone, who never trailed, took leads of two and three points. Their poor kicking — 11 wides and five shots that dropped short in the first-half — cost them as did their slow reactions for Rock’s goal. Overall, Mickey Harte will feel his tactics were vindicated by the fact that they should have won.
“I like to see quality defending,” said Harte. “People don’t give defenders credit for defending with discipline. That’s good to see as well.
“And many other teams get all their players behind the ball. In fact, in Premiership soccer — I know it’s 11-a-side — but how often do teams have everybody behind the ball, make a break and get scores?
“I don’t see why it should be any different in Gaelic games.”
Justin McMahon’s run from defence to grab a score was one of the highlights of a first-half that ended 0-6 apiece. But they rarely offered a goal threat which won’t please many purists.
“Who ever said goals are what makes games?” responded three-time All-Ireland winning manager Harte. “Whoever said people only come to see goals? Goals are just one aspect of the game.
“There are many other aspects of our game worth watching. I don’t think the people out there were very disappointed at all. I think they must have been very happy. Because there was a lot of energy, a lot of hard work, a lot of skilful play, a lot of good play under pressure. We have to look at the game in totality.
“Goals will come when they present themselves. Anybody who is going to Gaelic football to see goals only, maybe they should go to another game.”
Scorers for Dublin: D Rock (1-6, four frees), E O Conghaile, B Brogan, P Flynn (0-1 each)
Scorers for Tyrone: S Cavanagh (0-4, three frees), D McCurry (0-2, two frees), N Morgan (one free), J McMahon, P McNulty, M Donnelly, B Tierney and M Bradley (0-1 each).
DUBLIN: S Cluxton, E Culligan, R O’Carroll, J Cooper, N Devereux, P McMahon, J McCaffrey, D Bastick, E O Conghaile, T Brady, D Rock, C Kilkenny, K McManamon, B Brogan, P Andrews.
Subs for Dublin: C O’Sullivan for Bastick (29), E O’Gara for Andrews (h/t), P Flynn for Kilkenny (h/t), J McCarthy for McMahon (59), S Carthy for O Conghahile (64), C Costello for Brady (67).
TYRONE: N Morgan; A McCrory, J McMahon, C McCarron; R McNabb, R McNamee, Peter Harte; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; T McCann, M Donnelly, B Tierney; D McCurry, S Cavanagh, C McShane.
Subs for Tyrone: M Bradley for McShane (h/t), PJ Lavery for McCarron (55), C McCann for Tierney (60).
Referee: D Gough (Meath).
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