The first signs of rust on the Dublin machine appeared at Wexford Park last July. Ten months later, with many long nights when it would have been easy to decide to ride into the sunset and win your gold, the Dublin players have shown that there is still life in the old dog.
After relegation in the League, this victory was more about the message being sent to the rest of the country. It was loud and clear: Dublin are still competitors.
The more experienced players gave the lead – Jonny Cooper, Ciarán Kilkenny, Brian Howard, Dean Rock and, of course, Brian Fenton. If Fenton were in the US, he would be the MVP, or maybe even the best player in the world. He is all those things. In last year’s championship and in this year’s League he was mortal, with feet of clay, but normal business has resumed here. Fenton has his mojo back.
And the other piece of the puzzle is back. Con O’Callaghan was back with his usual goal and it took more than one hand to count his points. Calm in the Dublin ranks was restored.
The rumor mill has been in overdrive for the past year. Stories abounded about players not being happy with the intensity of training, that internal discipline had fallen and that many of the senior players were unhappy. There wasn’t much evidence of that.
Dublin looked fit, hungry, and very motivated. They advanced on Wexford’s kick and destroyed them in the longs. Midfield breaks often say a lot about a team. Dublin were back to previous levels. They flooded the area with bodies and outnumbered Wexford under the falling ball. Nobody was looking for someone else to do the dirty work.
The other area that shows hunger is the combat and here again the Dubs have appeared. At first, Wexford easily kept the ball, but as the first half progressed, Dublin started hunting for the player with the ball and used the touchline as his friend. In the past, Dubs used two or three players to force an opposing player towards the sideline and then withdraw the ball. It often led to scores.
Dublin’s defense had many uncomfortable days during the League, but there seem to have been a lot of repairs carried out.
Of course, it is necessary to bear in mind that Wexford is a 4th division team, but good teams prepare for all big games in the same way. Last year, Dublin limped out of the second half of this clash and the pattern has remained for all other games.
This time they kept the boot on the ground and there was tough running and high levels of skill and fitness in sight. They could have scored a lot of goals and if the bench isn’t as strong as before then it’s not so bad when James McCarthy and Niall Scully can be introduced. The League has not featured any star players, but the old team that remains will give everyone a run for their money.
There was a time when Tyrone versus Derry was a proper rivalry. One that was like Meath and Dublin, Cork and Kerry or Galway and Mayo. This disappeared about 20 years ago. In fact, it is 2006 that Derry last won a championship match against Tyrone.
In those distant days, the two teams parted ways and even a handshake before the start meant checking the number of fingers afterwards. Now the whole thing is a lot more civilized and that’s in Tyrone’s favor.
A little blood and guts alone might not win matches, but it’s the least Derry should bring today. They’re playing the champions of Ireland in their own patch, so they should experience a fair amount of disruption. If played on normal lines, Tyrone is almost certain to win, they have a larger number of proven players like Darren McCurry, Darragh Canavan, Conor Meyler and the two midfielders Conn Kilpatrick and Brian Kennedy who seem to have improved since last year.
Then there’s Niall Morgan who is a goalie, utility quarterback and long-range hitter. Tyrone is a force again.
I’ve seen Derry twice this year, and also some highlights. Against Roscommon, they were the better team for long periods, but a draw in that match cost them promotion. Then I saw them in Navan versus Meath when it turned out to be dead rubber. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Derry at the time, even though they had a little bit of quality with Brendan Rogers and Chrissy McKaigue in the back. Conor Glass is a great midfielder and Shane McGuigan has class.
Fill in all the other moving parts and they won’t have a panel to match Tyrone, though the loss of several fringe players could come back to bite Tyrone later on. Competition in training is just as important as the game day panel.
Tyrone also received another boost with Conor McKenna coming off his one-match suspension. He brought a huge surge of energy and scoring power when he came in against Fermanagh, but the disciplinary disaster is extremely frustrating. I have read judgments in some recent cases and some of them now resemble a Supreme Court appeal.
The GAA should never be about trying to find fault with referees’ reports or the administration of justice, however flawed it sometimes is. A cultural shift is needed to accept responsibility when it arises. Or better yet, city councils, instead of trying to undermine the system, actually came out in support of force. And pigs can fly.
Anyway, what we want today is a total Derry effort. And I mean pureblood, where they put pressure on Tyrone all the time, instead of sitting inside their 45 and hoping for the best. Fortune favors the Brave. I don’t think Derry will take that approach and that’s the rock on which they will perish.