Dublin to win but it will be a lot closer than peo­ple think

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Kevin McS­tay

There is no doubt Dublin are the best team we have seen in the 2018 cham­pi­onship by a fair dis­tance. But I don’t be­lieve it fol­lows that they will win this fi­nal by a mar­gin that will re­flect that dis­tance.

This idea that seems to be around that it’s theirs to lose is way too sim­plis­tic, in my view. I do ex­pect them to win but it will be a lot closer than peo­ple think.

When the field nar­rows all the way down af­ter a rig­or­ous cham­pi­onship, there doesn’t tend to be very much be­tween the two teams that are left stand­ing. While it’s true that Dublin won’t have been too sad to see Kerry and Mayo fall away, it’s still a fact that Tyrone are the team who have got clos­est to them this sum­mer. I cer­tainly don’t see Tyrone be­ing as far off them as the book­mak­ers say.

That said, it’s ob­vi­ous that Dublin are ca­pa­ble of go­ing to a level above what Tyrone can muster.

The Dublin at­tack is fright­en­ing when it gets go­ing. It’s based on quick move­ment, quick pass­ing and a strong base in mid­field.

I can see Michael Dar­ragh Ma­cauley be­ing an X-fac­tor here be­cause his un­pre­dictabil­ity can throw an or­gan­ised, well-drilled de­fence out of sync. If he’s not al­ways sure what he’s go­ing to do him­self, it’s hard for Tyrone to know ei­ther.

Self­less ro­ta­tion of ball

The key to Dublin’s at­tack is this con­stant, self­less ro­ta­tion of the ball. The cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of it is not just that you avoid the usual leak­age that comes from one or two play­ers de­cid­ing that they’re go­ing to be the star of the show. More cru­cially, it means that by shift­ing the op­po­si­tion de­fence over and back at high speed and from wide an­gles, your fi­nal pass in­vari­ably sets up a shoot­ing op­por­tu­nity in the cen­tral chan­nel, very of­ten with no op­po­si­tion.

If you pass quick enough, it’s just hu­man na­ture that the de­fender’s eye fol­lows the ball even­tu­ally. That’s how in even the most packed de­fence, some­body ends up get­ting lost or un­ac­counted for. It only take a split sec­ond of a lapse and next thing you know, a Dublin player is in front of the posts tak­ing what looks like a handy point. The fin­ish is sim­ple be­cause ev­ery­thing that has led up to it has been de­signed to make it so.

That’s a real chal­lenge for Tyrone. Can they es­tab­lish pres­sure, first and fore­most? You would have to imag­ine they can, at least in the open­ing stages. Can they be ag­gres­sive? No bet­ter men.

Can they hit Dublin, le­git­i­mately or oth­er­wise and stay on the right side of the law? Can they block, can they track run­ners? Yes, yes and yes. But can they do all that for al­most 80 min­utes with full con­cen­tra­tion and ap­pli­ca­tion? That’s the test.

Ver­sa­tile play­ers

Every Dublin score has to be an in­quest for Tyrone. What hap­pened? How do we stop it hap­pen­ing again? How do we stop them get­ting that rhythm go­ing? Fun­da­men­tally, you can’t al­low Dublin to be­come a scor­ing ma­chine in a fi­nal and then pre­sume you will outscore them. That’s not a vi­able strat­egy. Tyrone need to stop this game open­ing up. They need Dublin to be go­ing five min­utes, seven min­utes, 10 min­utes with­out a score. Then they’re in the game.

I think far too much is be­ing made of last year’s All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal. In the mod­ern game, when a match gets away from you, big gaps open up. With the best will in the world, you get to a point where you stop car­ing whether you lose by seven or 10 or 12 or 16. Con O’Cal­laghan’s goal broke Tyrone and the game got away from them too quickly. So I wouldn’t take it as a tem­plate for this game.

Ver­sa­tile

Funny enough, I think Tyrone may have more ver­sa­tile play­ers than Dublin. That of­fers Mickey Harte flex­i­bil­ity with his game plan. His­tory would sug­gest t they are un­likely to move too far from their nor­mal game, cer­tainly in the first half or the first three quar­ters. But if and when they come out and try to have a go at Dublin, they won’t need to make a raft of changes in per­son­nel to do it.

I don’t ex­pect Tyrone to put ev­ery­one be­hind the ball and force a kind of a Mex­i­can stand-off. For one thing, Harte doesn’t tend to die won­der­ing in fi­nals. For an­other, the les­son of the game in Omagh is surely that when Tyrone came out of their shell in the clos­ing quar­ter-hour, when they pushed up and got the bit be­tween their teeth and com­mit­ted men for­ward, that’s when they had Dublin ever so slightly on the run.

But trust me, play­ing with that men­tal­ity is so dif­fi­cult against Dublin. You are so, so wary of leav­ing your­self open, es­pe­cially early in the game. You have to give your­self a chance to be in the game when it is de­cided in the last 15 min­utes.

So I think we’re look­ing at a cagey, strate­gic game that will come down to who can ex­ert con­trol over the fi­nal quar­ter. The benches will play a huge part, as they have done in the past few fi­nals.

Tyrone’s of­fer­ing isn’t in­signif­i­cant here but Dublin’s is ex­cep­tional, with proven game-chang­ers who have been the dif­fer­ence be­fore and can be again.

It would be wrong to dis­miss Tyrone’s chances. I do think they can win it. But pos­si­bly Dublin’s least-praised skill over the years has been their abil­ity to find a way when matches are close, to keep their fo­cus in tight fin­ishes and get the job done.

I ex­pect them to get it done again here with a point or two to spare.

I don’t ex­pect Tyrone to put ev­ery­one be­hind the ball and force a kind of a Mex­i­can stand-off

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