Dean Rock gets the Dubs out of jail
ALLIANZ fL DIVision 1
HOW do you breach a 14-man defensive wall?
Jim Gavin isn't the first Dublin manager to face this conundrum - remember how Pat Gilroy's eventual All-Ireland champions struggled for an hour to solve that Jim McGuinness-patented riddle in 2011 - but Gavin's players took even longer to work it out against Tyrone.
Eventually they did, to earn a fortuitous draw, and those wearing Sky Blue blinkers will probably conclude that bypassing the 'blanket' by hitting an upright was all part of the master plan.
The alternative conclusion: Dublin got out of jail.
Dean Rock's 69th minute goal was enough to secure a 1-9 to 0-12 stalemate, one that keeps the reigning Allianz Football League champions at a precarious junction, destination undecided.
They have garnered three points from four games, with next Saturday's road trip to Mayo looking hazardous in the context of some previous Dublin no-shows in Castlebar and their most recent away record (two defeats from two).
With some heavyweight cavalry back on the field - Stephen Cluxton and Bernard Brogan started their first games of 2015, Paul Flynn and James McCarthy made their first appearances off the bench - there is the live possibility that Dublin could come with a burst over the last three rounds to secure progress to another Division One semi-final.
But the current form graph scarcely imbues confidence.
Gavin's post-match briefings aren't usually designed to enlighten, but he was more revealing than usual on Saturday night. Asked if he was confident of retaining top-flight status, he confirmed: "That would be the aim. But not with that performance, we won't get it."
In mitigation, Gavin has experimented more in this campaign than his previous all-conquering two. A league hat-trick doesn't seem top of his priority list.
"We have a strategic view of where we want this team to go this season, and if we stay up in Division One that'll be a priority," he explained.
"Anything after that - we'll take any games that come our way in April, as we have done in the past. This gives an opportunity for players who are trying to make their mark on the squad … it's a choppy sea sometimes when you go through that process, but it's got longer-term benefits."
In the short term, though, the team has started to creak. Their scoring returns (0-16 against Cork; 2-10 against Donegal, their best display of the year; 1-10 against Kerry; and now 1-9 against Tyrone) are moving in the wrong direction. However, it was the absence of thinking-on-your-feet game-management when faced by Mickey Harte's massed barricades that most worried the home majority in a crowd of 27,469.
Dublin's movement in the Tyrone half was laboured and too often lateral. Their passing lacked precision. At times they were let down by poor shooting and/or shot selection.
At other times, too, they were undermined by poor discipline - not in the reactionary way that spawned too many cards in Kerry, but rather in some ill-judged or awkward tackling.
"I thought David Gough generally had a good game," said Gavin, who didn't make an issue of a free-count weighing almost four-to-one in Tyrone's favour but rejected any inference that Dublin were a "systematic fouling team - I hope it didn't come across that way".
He suggested, with some validity, that some of the frees awarded to Tyrone in the scoring zone were "marginal calls". More of them weren't, though, and Seán Cavanagh, Darren McCurry and Niall Morgan converted seven in total.
However, on a miscuing night, Morgan was off-target with another four, including an injury-time 50-metre chance for victory, while McCurry hit one wide and Cavanagh dropped another free short. The latter was one of five undercooked Tyrone shots explained why their first half supremacy wasn't reflected on the 0-6 each interval scoreboard.
Yet, the primary reason for Tyrone's failure to claim a deserved victory can be distilled down to the 63rd minute goal chance missed by Tiernan McCann (or rather saved by Cluxton, at point-blank range) and the one converted by Rock.
The irony is that if Shane Carthy's point attempt had sailed over, instead of striking an upright, Dublin would have lost. But Eoghan O'Gara did brilliantly to retrieve possession and tee up Rock for a poacher's palmed finish to the bottom corner.
One final, revealing footnote: Dublin's only two goal chances (for Nicky Devereux in the first half, Rock at the end) stemmed from rebounds off the post.
You can't always depend on a lucky bounce to beat the blanket.
SCORERS - Dublin: D Rock 1-6 (0-4f), B Brogan, E Ó Conghaile, P Flynn 0-1 each. Tyrone: S Cavanagh 0-4 (4f), D McCurry 0-2 (2f), N Morgan (f), J McMahon, P McNulty, M Donnelly, B Tierney, M Bradley 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; E Culligan, R O'Carroll, J Cooper; J McCaffrey, P McMahon, N Devereux; D Bastick, E Ó Conghaile; T Brady, C Kilkenny, D Rock; K McManamon, P Andrews, B Brogan. Subs: C O'Sullivan for Bastick (29), P Flynn for Kilkenny (ht), E O'Gara for Andrews (ht), J McCarthy for McMahon (59), S Carthy for Ó Conghaile (64), C Costello for Brady (67).
TYRONE: N Morgan; R McNamee, J McMahon, C McCarron; B Tierney, R McNabb, A McCrory; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; T McCann, M Donnelly, P Harte; D McCurry, C McShane, S Cavanagh. Subs: M Bradley for McShane (ht), PJ Lavery for McCarron (inj 55), C McCann for Tierney (inj 59).
WIDES: Dublin 10 (3+7); Tyrone 11 (5+6).
YELLOW: Dublin 4 (Ó Conghaile 30, Rock 47, Brady 49, O'Sullivan 64); Tyrone 0.
BLACK: 0. RED: 0
REF: D Gough (Meath).
MAN OF THE MATCH: Dean Rock (Dublin).