Dublin 1-11 Tyrone 1-14
A notable Saturday night in Croke Park saw a below-par Dublin effectively relinquish their Allianz Football League title for only the second time in Jim Gavin’s seven years in charge, as a sharper and cleverer Tyrone maintained the county’s exceptional record in league matches at headquarters in recent years.
That they did so having lost to a red card, when picking up a black for pulling down a Dublin defender when already on a yellow, for the final quarter only emphasises how much in control they were.
There was a nervous air to the match by the end, as the home support in a meagre crowd of 19,927, fretted over whether what they were seeing was a portent of unease in this year of the drive for five or whether the champions have all their chips stacked on summer numbers.
has this decade found little championship comfort at headquarters against Dublin – as seen as recently as last September’s All-Ireland final – but the league has been different and they maintained their status as the All-Ireland champions’ least welcome Spring visitors.
Since Gavin’s first year in 2013, and over five meetings with Tyrone in Croke Park, Dublin have now won just one. This was also the first time during his tenure that the team have lost three regulation league fixtures.
Whether then Dublin management’s decision effectively to ignore the possibilities of the attacking mark has been justified awaits adjudication this summer when the experimental rule won’t apply but in two league defeats against Ulster counties, Monaghan on opening day and now Tyrone, they proved vulnerable to opponents ready and able to deploy the tactic.
On Saturday they conceded three points off it.
It was a frustrating first half for the holders. Despite abundant possession their finishing was frequently askew with seven wides whereas the visitors were models of economy, shooting just one scoring attempt wide and dropping another short.
If there was an element of good fortune about the 21st-minute goal – slipping to allow Cathal McShane in for an excellently-finished score – Tyrone deserved that much for the composure with which they absorbed Dublin’s early breakthrough.
It came in the fourth minute and had its origins in one of this fixture’s familiar sights, an expert defensive play by Dublin corner forward . His block ran for Cian O’Sullivan who sent Dean Rock scooting into space and the switch pass to saw the latter blast through the remaining cover and expertly bag the goal for a 1-0 to 0-1 lead.
Tyrone didn’t panic and used possession well to regain equilibrium on the scoreboard to lead by two at the break, 1-7 to 1-5.
There was a plague of injuries, afflicting both teams. Tiernan McCann was forced off in the 12 minute for Tyrone whereas Dublin lost go-to man marker John Small after half an hour and goal scorer Cormac Costello just before the interval – and his replacement was whisked off on the motorised stretcher 13 minutes into the second half.
The closest they got was two points, 1-9 to 1-11 in the 50th minute just before Tyrone went down to 14 men but despite flourishes from Paul Mannion and Con O’Callaghan and much effort by a still under-cooked Ciarán Kilkenny, the holders just couldn’t string together the sort of scoring bursts that typically lift them out of this type of difficulty.
Although Dublin controlled possession for long periods their shooting was inaccurate and wides ended up in double figures. By contrast Tyrone were efficient and made inroads using McShane and either Matthew or Richard Donnelly as a two-man full-forward line.
They frequently found space around their markers and if the attacking marks didn’t come from shoulder-to-shoulder contests under dropping ball, the movement of the Tyrone forwards created opportunity on most attacking plays. , who didn’t entirely thrive even after the early departure of his nemesis Small, got in on the act in the 56th minute, tracking an incoming ball like a fielder in cricket before kicking the mark.
Tyrone also helped keep the scoreboard moving with a couple of frees from goalkeeper and Dublin just weren’t able to close the gap. Like in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final which they won pulling up, they tried to stretch their opponents out to the wings but never made similar incisions when breaking through the centre and were well held by a composed defence.
TYRONE: 1. N Morgan (0-2, frees); 2. P Hampsey, 3. R McNamee, 4. HP McGeary; 5. T McCann, 6. F Burns, 7. B McDonnell; 8. C McShane (1-4, one point free), 9. R Donnelly (0-2); 10. M Donnelly (0-3), 11. N Sludden, 12. C Meyler; 22. B Kennedy, 14. P Harte (0-2, 15. K McGeary. Subs: 18. R Brennan for McCann (12 mins), 13. C McAliskey for Burns (60 mins), 20. C Cavanagh for McNamee (62 mins), 25. D McCurry for Kennedy (70 mins).
DUBLIN: 16. S Cluxton; 2. J Cooper, 3. D Byrne, 4. C O’Connor; 5. B Howard, 6. C O’Sullivan, 7. J Small; 8. B Fenton (0-1), 24. J McCarthy; 10. C O’Callaghan (0-1), 11. C Costello (1-0), 12. N Scully; 13. D Rock (0-2, frees), 14. C Kilkenny (0-2), 22. P Mannion (0-4, two frees). Subs: 19. D Daly for Small (31 mins), 15. P Andrews (0-1) for Costello (35 mins), 25. K McManamon for Andrews (48 mins), 9. D Gavin for O’Sullivan (57 mins), 26. E O’Gara for Rock (60 mins), 17. C Basquel for Scully (74 mins).
Referee: J Henry (Mayo).