Dublin v Ty­rone

All-Ire­land SFC Semi-fi­nal

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - THE TITLE -

THE the­ory goes that it has been for this game which Mickey Harte has plot­ted and planned for the best part of the last two years. He was hop­ing for an op­por­tu­nity to de­throne Dublin last sum­mer, but Seán Cavanagh’s send­ing-off and Mayo’s re­silience in­ter­vened.

That may not have been a bad thing as per­haps, Ty­rone weren’t quite ready 12 months ago. They cer­tainly hadn’t per­fected their counter-at­tack­ing style to the lev­els that has blitzed all be­fore them in the past few months.

It can be ar­gued that this will be Jim Gavin’s great­est test as Dublin man­ager, even more so than the 2014 semi-fi­nal against Done­gal. He failed that ex­am­i­na­tion and was forced to change the way that his team played, as a re­sult. But since re-in­vent­ing Cian O’Sul­li­van as a sweeper (or a deeply­ing cen­tre-back if you pre­fer), Dublin have been un­beaten in the Cham­pi­onship. That record is on the line here.

Ty­rone’s great­est strength is they de­mand that the op­po­si­tion play the game on their terms. Ar­magh were sucked into it in the quar­ter-fi­nal, as were Down in the Ul­ster fi­nal. Both teams drifted away from a style that had served them well all year and ended up be­ing an­ni­hi­lated.

Gavin has the per­son­nel not to get dragged into Ty­rone’s type of game. He could leave Dean Rock, Con O’Cal­laghan and Paul Man­nion up as in­side-for­wards for the en­tire game. But the thing is that Dublin have never faced the storm that Ty­rone are go­ing to bring to Croke Park and it is im­pos­si­ble to know how play­ers are go­ing to re­act – es­pe­cially as the sum­mer has been such a stroll in the sun for them.

O’Cal­laghan has emerged as a star this year but he has yet to face the in­ten­sity that Ty­rone will bring. How will the young Cuala star stand up to that sort of pres­sure?

Dublin’s best hope will be to hit Ty­rone early. If they find the net within the first few min­utes, this will be a dif­fer­ent sort of game as the Ul­ster cham­pi­ons will have to chase it.

But if Ty­rone get an early goal, how will Dublin will re­spond?

The spec­tre of Diar­muid Con­nolly hangs over this fix­ture, too. Gavin has not thrown in his tem­per­a­men­tal star from the start as if there is one team that you do not want to face in your first game back, it is Ty­rone.

And the tack­ling of Harte’s side has to be ad­mired. They rarely con­cede frees — par­tic­u­larly in the scor­ing zone. This is vi­tal against Dublin, given Rock’s ac­cu­racy. In­deed, Ty­rone would have beaten Dublin in Croke Park last February but for the Dubs get­ting some soft frees to­wards the end.

That game swung on Mark Bradley’s dis­missal and the diminu­tive for­ward has a key role to play this af­ter­noon. When the game opens up with 20 min­utes to go, Harte may call on Ro­nan O’Neill and Lee Bren­nan, but Bradley may get some help this af­ter­noon in the form of David Mul­grew, re­warded for his two goals against Ar­magh, with a start­ing place here. What Harte has done with this Ty­rone team has to be ad­mired. He doesn’t have the stel­lar tal­ents of the noughties. There is no Owen Mul­li­gan, no Stephen O’Neill, no Brian McGuigan. So, he’s im­pro­vised.

Niall Slud­den may not have the play-mak­ing ge­nius of McGuigan, but he is asked to fill the same role and make the team tick around him. With no strike­for­ward like Mul­li­gan or O’Neill, Harte has en­sured that each of his play­ers can come for­ward and shoot. Their spread of scor­ers – 11 dif­fer­ent ones in the Ul­ster fi­nal – is very im­pres­sive.

It is hard to back against Dublin, un­beaten in the Cham­pi­onship since the 2014 semi-fi­nal de­feat. And they have the likes of Michael Dar­ragh Ma­cauley, Paul Flynn and Bernard Bro­gan to call upon for the fi­nal 25 min­utes.

Like­wise, Ty­rone haven’t beaten a top team in the Cham­pi­onship – Dublin, Kerry or Mayo – since 2008. In that time, they have lost twice to each of them.

But there’s some­thing about Ty­rone this year. If Slud­den and Peter Harte are able to pull the strings, Ty­rone will edge their way, cau­tiously, into an All-Ire­land fi­nal.

Ty­rone

Harte is treated by some as a cu­rios­ity in this coun­try

TEST­ING TIMES: NEW DI­REC­TION: Dublin de­fender Cian O’Sul­li­van Mickey Harte Croke Park, 4.0pm, RTÉ 2/Sky Sports Arena HD Ref: D Coldrick (Meath)

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