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1 September 2005 Edition

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And then there were three



There were two turning points in the Dublin versus Tyrone replay that ultimately decided the outcome. The first came when a Stephen O'Shaughnessy tackle on Seán Cavanagh was awarded with a penalty that was clinically dispatched by Stephen O'Neill. In fairness, Gerry Kinneavy was unsighted but it was a legitimate dispossession of the type witnessed several times in the drawn game and let go by Aidan Mangan.

The second decisive event was Owen Mulligan's goal in the second half at a stage when Dublin had come from eight points down to three and were in full flow. A Stephen Cluxton kick-out to Declan Lally was intercepted by Cavanagh who sent the ball to Mulligan and once he had it there was only one likely outcome. Game over.

In truth it was a game that Dublin never looked like winning. Tyrone were hungrier, faster to the ball and ruthless in their execution of scores. They also had the experience to dictate the pace of the game once they had established their dominance at half time, and again after the second goal.

It is a match that in part was won before the ball was thrown in. Dublin had injuries to Paddy Christie and Darren Homan which reduced their options, but I can't help feeling that the management allowed themselves to have their defensive plan dictated to them by the selection that Mickey Harte named earlier in the week. Canavan was down to start and Dublin were fixated on how to counter a full forward line that included himself, Mulligan and O'Neill.

In the event Canavan did not make an appearance even when Tyrone had the match won. But like Banquo's ghost in Macbeth, the folically challenged Ballygawley man had played a large role in unmanning Dublin. Harte and his selectors have proven themselves to be astute tacticians over the summer. I have heard Tyrone people complain about some of their decisions, especially in the Ulster Final games, but in general they have made the correct calls and it will be interesting to see what gameplan they devise in their attempt to overcome Armagh at the third attempt.

If Dublin ever had a gameplan, it was quickly proven to be inadequate. The absence of Christie in the full-back line left the defence rudderless. In large part that was due to the way in which the Tyrone forwards pulled players out of position and this left gaping holes in the centre once Tyrone won possession at midfield. I felt that Dublin did quite well in that department although Darren Magee clearly showed the effects of not having played at this level for some time.

Dublin were also left at a severe disadvantage when Alan Brogan was injured, thus removing their most creative forward. Only for a brief period in the second half did they appear to have the Tyrone defence on the back foot and even then they were handicapped by Quinn's poor free-taking.

But that's all might-have-beens. Fact is Tyrone were the superior team and fully deserved their victory. Sunday's match against Armagh will be Tyrone's ninth of the championship. It is a huge tribute to their fitness and commitment that they have managed to come through so many tough games in a short period and if anything get better as they progress.

For Dublin, once the disappointment of defeat fades, probably some time in November, there will be a lot of positive things to take from this year's campaign. A Leinster title is not to be sniffed at, and there was no loss of face to going down to Tyrone. Any team that gives its best and never gives up deserves respect and this Dublin team has earned it. Now we curmudgeons can only look forward to bitterly cold afternoons in Parnell Park and other locations when the blue hordes will be reduced to its Winter division of 8 or 9,000. And dream of distant summers to come.

Cork's summer dream quickly turned into a nightmare last Sunday at the hands of their dear neighbours from across the mountains. A Cork chap once told me that he would rather have his eyes gouged out with a rusty spoon than be beaten by Kerry. For most of last weekend's game that might have seemed a more attractive option than having to watch the clinical destruction of a team that many gave a serious chance of overcoming the current champions.

Kerry were superb and it would be hard to identify any weak positions on the team. When you add to that the fact that they have the likes of Mike Frank and Dara O Cinnéide to introduce as subs you get some idea of the strength of the current panel. When you also bear in mind that 15 of the players who appeared during the course of Sunday's match were also participants in what many Kerry supporters regarded as their worst ever defeat in Croke Park in 2003 at the hands of Tyrone, it gives some idea of the work that Jack O'Connor has performed in transforming them into a side that has an excellent opportunity to win Kerry's first back-to-back titles since 1986.

The 2003 semi-final was one of the main inspirations for Pat Spillane's awarding of the title 'puke football' to the style which he feels, or felt, is epitomised by Tyrone and Armagh. In truth it was an awful match, with over 70 frees, but Kerry were just as culpable as Tyrone in their intent to try and stop the opposition rather than play themselves.

Thankfully both teams have moved well beyond that and their strength now lies in impeccable athleticism and the ability to take their scoring opportunities with an efficiency that leaves teams like Dublin and Cork at a huge disadvantage. Kerry have undoubtedly learned better than anyone else from the standard set by Tyrone and Armagh and their backs and midfield gave a display of closing down Cork that is similar to the brand identified with the two Ulster counties.

So the three best teams in the country remain and we can look forward to at least two more matches that promise to be enthralling. Not as enthralling as when your own county is involved, but certainly easier to watch. Indeed talking to a Tyrone man last Monday I was gripped with a mixture of envy and relief as we discussed Tyrone's prospects against Armagh. Relief that I will be able to watch it without glancing every so often in the direction of the cardiac unit. But mostly envy.

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