Dublin don’ t rat­tle easy but a dose of Tyrone mad­ness can change that

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - Keith Dug­gan

I shook up the world! I shook up the world! – Muham­mad Ali, 1964.

Should they even bother play­ing the All-Ire­land fi­nal? No­body is giv­ing Tyrone a prayer. In all the chat­ter about this year’s foot­ball show­piece; all the pod­casts and the spon­sored road shows and the pre­views – no­body has been able to bring them­selves to safely fore­cast any­thing other but a fourth suc­ces­sive All-Ire­land ti­tle for Dublin. There is a weird, re­signed ac­cep­tance about the re­sult be­fore the match has even been played.

Dublin have been so re­li­ably ex­cel­lent at play­ing Gaelic foot­ball all sum­mer that there is, bizarrely, al­most noth­ing left to say about them. So on the air­waves, the usual tributes to Dublin are du­ti­fully re­cited week in and week out. So ev­ery­one keeps say­ing that Dublin don’t “do” panic; that they stick to the process; that they will play it any way it lays. The big co­nun­drum – to sit tight or press up – gets a due air­ing be­fore the pun­dits, with a mirth­less laugh, con­clude that you are screwed ei­ther way.

Ciarán Kilkenny’s pos­ses­sion sta­tis­tics will draw whis­tles of ad­mi­ra­tion and Stephen Clux­ton’s kick-outs and Jim Gavin’s foren­sic at­ten­tion to de­tail and, of-course, the heav­ily-dec­o­rated bench; the cast of re­serves that are the envy of every county in Ire­land. This has been “The Con­ver­sa­tion” about Dublin ever since 2014 and it has hard­ened into a fact that, in a strange way, has given the other elite teams a bit of a get-out-of-jail card. If the Dubs are un­beat­able, then maybe it’s okay if we don’t beat them.

On the day that Dublin played Done­gal in Croke Park, Lee Kee­gan and Tomás Ó Sé were in stu­dio. Both men are two of the most ex­cit­ing foot­ballers to have ever played the game and shared, in cham­pi­onship games, a daunt­less­ness of spirit. Along with Joe Brolly, they were dis­cussing the seem­ing im­pos­si­bil­ity of beat­ing the Dubs. Brolly made that point about the Dubs: that they don’t panic.

“It doesn’t mat­ter what you are do­ing at the time,” Kee­gan agreed.

“It is just the next play. You just look at them and they are not rat­tled. And I couldn’t agree more with Tomás. Un­til they are rat­tled . . .”

You can bet that Kee­gan hopes and even ex­pects to be play­ing and beat­ing Dublin in a fu­ture All-Ire­land fi­nal. So he wasn’t go­ing to say any­thing apart from vaguely praise­wor­thy stuff about Dublin. But I don’t be­lieve that Lee Kee­gan pri­vately be­lieves that it is im­pos­si­ble to “rat­tle” Dublin. Kee­gan is among the top five Gaelic foot­ballers in the coun­try. He knows that every player oc­ca­sion­ally be­comes rat­tled – that catch-all GAA phrase for be­ing in some way sur­prised or find­ing doubts creep­ing into your mind.

Kee­gan knows this hap­pens be­cause play­ers are hu­man. And he can’t say this pub­licly while he is still play­ing for Mayo but you can bet that deep down, he be­lieves in his gut that Mayo have taken Dublin to that place a few times. And they didn’t take ad­van­tage of it.

In­fi­nite dif­fer­ence

You can bet that when Mayo’s play­ers dis­cuss the rea­sons they didn’t de­feat Dublin in the All-Ire­land fi­nals, they aren’t mar­vel­ling at the Dub’s poise un­der pres­sure. They were talk­ing about the ways in which they them­selves screwed up; the small things they didn’t do that made the in­fi­nite dif­fer­ence.

In the sixth minute of the Done­gal game this sum­mer, Jack McCaf­frey looked up and played an at­tempted kick pass over Done­gal’s cor­ner back. His team-mate, Niall Scully had waited un­til his marker was ball watch­ing and then he cut back-door be­hind the last line of de­fence. McCaf­frey’s pass was cut out on that oc­ca­sion but the pub­lic would get a chance to see the same cut from Scully early in the sec­ond half in a move which led to his sec­ond goal. And they would see the very same move which led to a goal in the All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal against Gal­way. It’s just one in a se­ries of pat­terns which Dublin use, hav­ing stolen a march on other teams by ex­ploit­ing one of the faults most com­mon in all GAA de­fend­ers: their lifelong habit of ball-watch­ing. Scully’s goals killed Done­gal that day and his speed and the an­gle of his runs were ex­em­plary. But the first was fa­cil­i­tated through non-ex­is­tent de­fend­ing and the sec­ond was down to the ba­sic de­fen­sive er­ror of de­fend­ers be­com­ing hyp­no­tised by the ball. It is a weak­ness still ram­pant in the elite tier of Gaelic foot­ball and one upon which Dublin thrive.

There is so much to ad­mire about Dublin, not least the hu­mil­ity with which they have as­cended to­wards be­com­ing a great team. But the idea that they are ac­tu­ally un­beat­able is bo­gus. The Dublin play­ers make mis­takes. Of course they do: they are hu­mans and, re­mem­ber, are am­a­teur sports­men. They can be forced into hur­ried think­ing.

Ve­neer of in­vul­ner­a­bil­ity

They are ter­rific ath­letes and foot­ballers and hon­est and their ex­pe­ri­ences of the last three years prob­a­bly makes them be­lieve that they have the re­sources and the col­lec­tive strength to al­ways find a way to win. But just be­cause they be­lieve they are un­beat­able doesn’t make it a divine law. It doesn’t make it fact. It is the fail­ure of all other teams since Done­gal in 2014 to ex­pose their hu­man frail­ties which has given them that ve­neer of in­vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

And right now, this is the beast that Tyrone face. What a dream! This is the kind of oc­ca­sion that is tai­lor-made for a coach like Mickey Harte. Again: no­body out­side the dress­in­groom gives Tyrone a prayer. That gives the coach a li­cense to do what­ever he chooses. Harte has a rep­u­ta­tion for fear­less think­ing in huge matches. What if Tyrone can in­tro­duce chaos to this fi­nal? What if they come equipped with more than one game­plan? What if Tyrone play 15 be­hind the ball at times and also play two big men in­side at times and also gam­ble with four up at times? What if they de­cide to see how Dublin’s full­back line copes with a sus­tained bar­rage of long high ball? But most of all, what if Tyrone con­vince them­selves that the world is wrong and they de­cide to ig­nore all the chat­ter and to play with that mix of iron and mad­ness – true Tyrone ec­cen­tric­ity – that no team this sum­mer has had the courage to bring to Dublin? If they do all that, will they have a chance of win­ning? Yes. Of course they will.

Not since Done­gal ’92 has any team gone into an All-Ire­land fi­nal as such stone cold out­siders. This is a shot to noth­ing for Tyrone. They can do what­ever they please and that makes them very, very dan­ger­ous. Just ask Sonny Lis­ton.

This is the kind of oc­ca­sion that is tai­lor-made for a coach like Mickey Harte. Again: no­body out­side the dress­in­groom gives Tyrone a prayer

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.