For the first time in his seven-year reign, the multi-decorated Dublin manager has seen his team lose three Allianz Football League matches in a season.
The result was sweet revenge for Mickey Harte and Tyrone after last year’s All-Ireland final heartbreak. It was also richly deserved on a night when Tyrone persistently frustrated Dublin’s surprisingly blunt forward line while, at the other end, Harte’s two-man full-forward line of Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly tormented Dublin’s full-back division.
McShane finished with 1-4, his haul including two converted marks, and he was rewarded with the official Man of the Match award.
Donnelly shot 0-3 from play while providing the assist for McShane’s first half goal. Then, deep in stoppage time, Donnelly popped up in defence to execute a flying block on Colm Basquel’s half-chance of an equalising goal.
In truth, the off-colour Dubs wouldn’t have deserved it: they were second best for much of this encounter, even in the last 25 minutes (stoppage-time included) when Tryone were a man down after Niall Sludden’s dismissal.
The result sees Tyrone leapfrog Dublin in the Division 1 standings; the latter’s prospects of reaching a seventh consecutive NFL decider are now redundant as they slipped to fifth in the table.
This was a very different affair to the first Sunday of last September. On a cool, crisp night, Tyrone came to Croke Park with a plan and executed it with eye-catching efficiency for 50 minutes.
At that juncture they led Dublin by two points – 1-11 to 1-9.
Then Sludden, already on a booking, was banished on a black card, cited by referee Jerome Henry for a pull-down.
How would 14 men handle the four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions? Initially at least, quite brilliantly: they landed the next three points via Richie Donnelly, Peter Harte (from an excellent over-the-shoulder mark) and McShane (another mark).
Dublin came with one last surge but their attempts to eat into a five-point deficit were too fitful. Ciarán Kilkenny brought his haul to 0-2, then Kilkenny’s pot-shot at goal was blocked by Ben McDonnell in injury-time. Paul Mannion converted a free to make it a three-point game, but Tyrone held firm.
Both sides arrived at HQ in recently rude health, having recovered from poor campaign starts to record back-to-back victories ahead of this All-Ireland final rematch.
Dublin were still short-odds favourites for multiple reasons, not least their recent head-to-head record against the Red Hands: they had won their previous four duels, in league and championship, by a cumulative 26 points.
And even though Mattie Donnelly opened Tyrone’s account inside 23 seconds, you could argue that normal service was restored when Cormac Costello struck for a fourth minute goal.
The score had its genesis in a familiar source. Paul Mannion, who tormented Tyrone last summer for his defensive turnovers as much as his scoring prowess, stymied another attack with a brilliant block on Hugh Pat McGeary.
In an instant, Dublin were going for the counter-attacking jugular, Dean Rock off-loading to Costello, who torched Brian Kennedy for pace as the prelude to firing past Niall Morgan.
And yet, as the half unfolded, the visitors grew ever-stronger into the contest. Donnelly, revelling in his new role closer to goal, landed a second from play and then a Peter Harte free brought parity.
Even though Con O’Callaghan restored Dublin’s lead midway through the half, that stemmed from one of their few examples of patient, precise probing.
Almost immediately, Tyrone butchered a goal chance when Cathal McShane over-cooked his attempted handpass to Frank Burns.
Undeterred, the Donnelly brothers – Richie and Mattie – combined with two foot passes to create another goal chance, facilitated by a David Byrne slip that left McShane through, one-on-one with Cluxton, in the 21st minute.
It wasn’t the last time that Byrne would suffer in the slipstream of McShane, whose low finish outfoxed Cluxton to give Tyrone a lead they would never subsequently relinquish.
The protagonists matched each other for the remainder of the half which finished with Tyrone two clear, 1-7 to 1-5.
Their first half success was partially predicated on tigerish defending – and also a smart save from Niall Morgan to deny Costello a second goal. Dublin were also complicit in their first half travails: by the break they were ahead on the wide count, seven-three.
War wounds provided a further headache for Gavin, who lost John Small to a suspected hamstring injury suffered in the preamble to Costello’s second goal chance while Costello himself also hobbled off before the break.
They would subsequently lose Paddy Andrews, who was forced off after shipping a crunching tackle from the wandering Morgan, who was duly booked.
Story of Dublin’s night. Injury added to insult.
SCORERS – Tyrone: C McShane 1-4 (2m, 1f), M Donnelly, P Harte (2f, 1m) 0-3 each, N Morgan (2f), R Donnelly 0-2 each. Dublin: P Mannion 0-4 (2f, 1m), C Costello 1-0, D Rock (2f), C Kilkenny 0-2 each, C O’Callaghan, B Fenton, P Andrews 0-1 each.
TYRONE: N Morgan; R McNamee, P Hampsey, HP McGeary; K McGeary, F Burns, C Meyler; B McDonnell, B Kennedy; P Harte, N Sludden, R Donnelly; T McCann, C McShane, M Donnelly. Subs: R Brennan for McCann (inj 12), C McAliskey for Burns (60), C Cavanagh for McNamee (62), D McCurry for Kennedy (70).
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; J Cooper, D Byrne, C O’Connor; J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton, B Howard; N Scully, C Kilkenny, C O’Callaghan; C Costello, P Mannion, D Rock. Subs: D Daly for Small (inj 31), P Andrews for Costello (inj 35), K McManamon for Andrews (inj temp 48), D Gavin for O’Sullivan (57), E O’Gara for Rock (60), C Basquel for Scully (74).
REF: J Henry (Mayo).