I was at a chilly Croke Park with the kids this afternoon for the league final between Dublin and Tyrone, where the small people with me got to see their county clinching its tenth NFL title following a one-point win over the swarming Nordies. The Dubs deserved their win today, I thought, and their league triumph has to be viewed as fair enough too as they have clearly been the form team in the country this spring. The trick for Jim Gavin now is to make sure that this is also the case over the summer.
I was expecting to see something resembling a championship encounter today between two sides who should have a big shout in this year’s pursuit of Sam but I’m afraid the standard of football from both Dublin and Tyrone was nothing like what you’d expect to see in high summer. The match was littered with unforced errors, with both teams repeatedly kicking away possession, and the shooting wasn’t hectic either even if this could in part be explained by the hard-to-read swirling wind that gusted around HQ for the entire seventy minutes.
Dublin didn’t look as devastating in attack as they’d done in their semi-final win over our lads a fortnight ago, though I suspect that was partly to do with the way that our lax defending that day made them look so good. It was, though, also due to the diligence that Tyrone brought to their defensive duties, as they repeatedly pressurised the Dublin forward in possession, forcing the offload and, more than once, forcing the Dubs to cough up the ball.
As the match entered the home stretch, it looked as if the Red Hand had the Jacks’ number but every time they edged in front, Tyrone promptly sank back into defence and three times in succession in those closing stages Dublin managed to conjur up an equaliser, with sub Dean Rock getting the last one and then going one better to nudge his side in front for the first time in ages with a superb long-range effort. The excellent Jack McCaffrey then added another to give the Dubs a bit of breathing space as the game entered injury time with Tyrone pulling one back before running out of road.
Dublin will, I’d say, take great heart from today’s success and it sets them up nicely for the bigger tests that now lie ahead. Jim Gavin has more options at his disposal than most other Gaelic football managers right now but he still has to find a suitable partner for Michael Darragh Macauley at midfield and he also has to figure out who plays where in the forwards. If he does manage to get this jigsaw right, however, Gavin’s team could, I reckon, be difficult to stop this year.
I doubt somehow if Mickey Harte will be too put out by today’s loss. Shorn of the services of Stephen O’Neill – who bizarrely got crocked in the warm-up – they provided plenty of evidence that they’re going to be well prepared for Donegal in four weeks time. That impending championship opener has been their main priority for some time and this could well have had an impact on how they performed today. Forget about today: next month will show where Tyrone really stand in the scheme of things … as it’s likely to do for us as well.
Away from Croke Park, the Mayo ladies’ team had a cracking win this afternoon over defending league champions Monaghan in their NFL semi-final at Ballinamore. The girls upset the odds to win by 1-10 to 0-9, with the peerless Cora Staunton bagging all of her team’s scores, and they’ll now face Cork in the league decider at Parnell Park on 11th May.