Anyone who watched Tyrone lose to Dublin must have been hugely impressed with the way Dublin went about the game. Back in 2003 Tyrone brought serious intensity, fitness and organisation to Gaelic Football and as a result won the county’s first All Ireland. Granted Dublin may still have a distance to go in terms of winning their county’s first Sam since 1995 but looking at their display against Tyrone it appears they have raised the bar in terms of preparation and method.
The same two teams met at this stage last year and Dublin’s victory was attributed by some as solely to Tyrone’s failure to convert their chances. I felt at the time that was a very niaive and head in the sand analysis of a match that appeared to show two teams at different stages of their development but both at crucial stages in terms of their direction. Saturday night certainly confirmed that Dublin are an improving side as they simply blew Tyrone out of the water and could have won by much more than the seven point margin at the end. In Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly they had the two best forwards on view but this was no two man show. Overall Dublin looked fitter, hungrier, fresher, better organised and quicker than Tyrone. They won all the key battles and dominated break ball but much more than that they had a game plan that every player bought into and delivered with great success.
The game was best summed up in a thirty second cameo late in the first half when Tyrone broke with the ball and played it into the forward line. Mark Donnelly bravely won the ball but was swarmed by four Dublin defenders and the ball was turned over. It was immediately moved forward where Dublin had only Connolly and Bernard Brogan in advanced positions but they were being policed by at least six Tyrone defenders. However such was the form that they were in that the two Dublin players managed to not only win the ball but created a score out of very little. Now this is no criticism of Tyrone or their defenders it was just typical of how hungry and up for the game Dublin as a team were. Very little went wrong for the light blues on a night when they bossed the game from start to finish. They deserved their win and such was the form they were in that they would have beaten any team in Ireland on that display.
Dublin were so dominant and ruthless that Tyrone looked a beaten team long before the final whistle but to their great credit they battled right to the end. The sad thing is that for many of this current squad Saturday’s painful defeat to Dublin could well mark the end of their county careers. There are bound to be changes and retirements following this championship exit but we should remember that these lads owe us nothing. For the past ten years or so they have given us some of the best ever days in our footballing lives winning three All Irelands and being part of some marvellous matches and occasions along the way that will live long in the memory. No one could complain or begrudge any players who decide to call it a day after all they have given to Gaelic Football and to Tyrone folk all over the world. We should be more than grateful to have shared the journey and be forever indebted to the players and management for what they have achieved.
Perhaps we should consider this defeat not so much as the end of a chapter but the beginning of a new one. There are lessons to be learned but now is the time to lay the foundations for the next ten years and should they be as successful as the last ten have been then Saturday night’s defeat may be viewed in its proper context.