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Saturday 23 September 2017

Dubs keep unbeaten run going

Dublin 0-10 Tyrone 1-7

Dublin's Dean Rock
Dublin's Dean Rock
Dublin's Eoghan O'Gara in action against Tyrone Ronan McNamee

Jim Gavin arrived into the media room in Croke Park on Saturday night drenched and windswept and furnished us with a neat sketch of Dublin's latest escape act.

"Five points down, missed a penalty and they could have said 'to hell with this, it's a cold windy night in Dublin and I'd prefer to be somewhere else'," he surmised of the exciting bit of Saturday evening's draw with Tyrone excavated under a biblical downpour on Croke Park.

"But no, they showed great mental character once again, great mental resolve."

Time was, Dublin just couldn't win these sort of tight games.

Yet by virtue of performing another minor miracle on Saturday evening, this team have gone 31 in League and Championship without defeat, a run that goes back to March 1st 2015.

If they manage to avoid losing in Ballybofey in two week's time, they'll carry that record past the two-year mark.

"This time four weeks ago," Gavin added for context, "the guys were in a different part of the world. So to show that character so early in the season is very pleasing."

This was as tough as they've had it.

Dublin's ability to dig, scrape and carve results from every conceivable position of peril is perhaps this team's most impressive characteristic.

Yet at five points down with 10 minutes to go against a team who made life almost unbearably uncomfortable under the torrent of violent wind and rain, it looked very much as though their jig was up.

To that point, Dublin had scored five points, only two of which had come from play and both via full-back line defenders in Philly McMahon and Jonny Cooper.

Their only sniff of a goal fell to Dean Rock, a 40th minute penalty won by Paul Mannion wherein Niall Morgan pulled off a comfortable low, right-handed save.

Saturday night was the eighth time in that 31 game stretch that Dublin didn't score a goal, which made that comeback all the more arduous.

Eoghan O'Gara won oceans of ball but couldn't get turned on Ronan McNamee and he didn't have the option of those usual outriders speeding into range to offer themselves for an easy popped pass.

As is their wont, Tyrone played with every player available behind the ball whenever possible.

As is theirs, Dublin committed as many as they could to attack, resulting in heavy, unproductive congestion inside the Tyrone half.

"We found it challenging to find gaps there in the first-half," Gavin noted.

Quirk

"Underfoot conditions didn't help, into a wind, and against a team that has been back probably two months more than we have been b ack so to regroup at half-time and just stick at it.

"For them to stick at it and not to give up, that's the most pleasing."

It's an odd quirk of these teams' recent summer pathways that they haven't crossed in the Championship since 2011 but that whisper about Mickey Harte's team being the one most stylistically suited to wrecking Dublin's collective heads only got louder on Saturday night.

Gavin acknowledged that "they play it really well and they have won so much playing that style of football," but added: "that's the way they see the game to be played, we don't."

Indeed the Dublin manager sounded mostly unimpressed by Tyrone's tactical approach on the night.

"We've spoke a lot about and what it means for this team to play its attacking brand of football," he added, "and to keep believing in it.

"We play a lot of teams that don't believe that way, that that's the way the game should be played."

Truth be told, Tyrone were their own worst enemies here.

Defensively, they were technically and tactically both good and cunning and in Niall Sludden, had the night's most accomplished attacking performance.

Yet they kicked 14 wides.

Champions

And at five up with 10 to play and Dublin a couple of strides shy of peak pace, they opted for caution and containment when an only slightly greater devotion to attack would probably have earned them the status that goes with ending a 30-game unbeaten run.

They invited Dublin on, Gavin's team accepted the offer and by the time Dean Rock levelled it four minutes into injury time, the more likely it looked that the All-Ireland champions would go on to win.

"It all goes with the confidence that they have gained by being so successful and the number of players they have to call on who are fighting for a place not only in the fifteen but in the 26," reckoned Mickey Harte.

"They are very consistent and they are going to be very hard to beat."

Gavin meanwhile, could reflect on another prominent and productive display from Niall Scully, Dublin's 2017 breakthrough act.

Others bore their rust for everyone in Croke Park to see and the injury that forced James McCarthy out looked more serious than Gavin hoped but mostly, he saw the good in an awful night.

"Of course there were mistakes made, absolutely there were," he added.

"But the pleasing thing is that they never gave up and stuck with it to the very end and, you know, we could have won."

SCORERS - Dublin: D Rock 0-6 (6f), P McMahon, J Cooper, B Fenton, C Kilkenny 0-1 each. Tyrone: N Sludden 0-3, A McCrory 1-0, P Harte 0-2 (2f), C Meyler, D McClure 0-1 each.

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, P McMahon, J Cooper; J McCarthy, J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, MD Macauley; C Basquel, C Kilkenny, N Scully; D Rock, E O'Gara, P Mannion. Subs: E Lowndes for Basquel (h-t),K McManamon for Macauley (44), C Reddin for Mannion (50), D Byrne for McCaffrey (51), J Whelan for Small (57), D Daly for Cooper (59).

TYRONE: N Morgan, P Hampsey, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, P Harte, A McCrory; C Cavanagh, J McMahon; C Meyler, N Sludden, D McClure; D McCurry, C McShane, M Bradley. Subs: R Brennan for McCann (16), S Cavanagh for McShane (h-t), J Munroe for McMahon (47), D Mulgrew for Meyler (50), P McNulty for McClure (70).

WIDES - Dublin: 7 (3 + 4). Tyrone: 14 (8 + 6)

BOOKED - Dublin: 4 (Small 10, McMahon 43, Cooper 50, O'Gara 76). Tyrone: 1 (McCrory 45)

BLACK CARD - Tyrone: 1 (McCann 16)

SENT OFF - Tyrone: 1 (Bradley 56 straight red)

REF: J McQuillan (Cavan)

ATTENDANCE: 28,305

MAN OF THE MATCH: Niall Sludden (Tyrone)

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