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Friday 19 October 2018

Fired-up Tyrone might unleash the competitive beast in Dublin

SFC 'Super 8s' Group 2: Tyrone v Dublin (Omagh, Tonight 7.0, Live Sky Sp)

Crash: Dublin’s James McCarthy bursts through Tyrone’s Ciarán McLaughlin (l) and Connor McAliskey in February. Photo: Sportsfile
Crash: Dublin’s James McCarthy bursts through Tyrone’s Ciarán McLaughlin (l) and Connor McAliskey in February. Photo: Sportsfile

On paper, this is just the type of contest - in precisely the right location - to ignite the Super 8s after a damp squib opening weekend.

Tyrone are at home. They've hit prolific form with pinpoint timing.

And Dublin, for all their pedigree and stellar options and big-match savvy, aren't quite flowing as you'd expect from a team closing in on four-in-a-row.

So, whatever about an ambush, surely we have all the ingredients for a full-blooded arm-wrestle?

Just like last August.

Remember the build-up to that semi-final ... the assumption that Tyrone's blanket defence and finely-honed counter-attacking game-plan would test the mettle and ingenuity of Jim Gavin's Dublin to its very limit?

That theory lasted four-and-a-half minutes, until Con O'Callaghan ran through the middle of a parting Red Sea and buried an unstoppable goal. Plan A in the shredder; no Plan B to be found.

Here's another reason to be cautious about talking up 'Fortress Omagh' ... the last three times Dublin have ventured to Healy Park, in 2010, 2014 and the February just gone, they have won.

League is league, championship is championship? Perhaps, but this is a Dublin team embarked on an already record-breaking run of 24 SFC games unbeaten. They haven't lost a summer contest since the 2014 semi-final against Donegal. For all of Jim Gavin's protestations that they only care about the next game, not what happened in the past, protecting that record and prolonging this run is surely a huge driver.

True, they can afford one slip-up en route so long as it comes now, in the quarter-final group stages. But Gavin won't want it to come to that, especially as it would merely confirm the hints of slippage that were present against Donegal last weekend - and even, at times, during their latest cruise through Leinster by a cumulative 60 points.

Maybe that's the problem: Leinster has become such a routine mission that it creates an environment for sloppiness and drains away the intensity you need in the All-Ireland series.

Thus, when it came to the opening salvo of the Super 8s, three marquee members of the Dublin attack (O'Callaghan, Paul Mannion and Ciarán Kilkenny) all underperformed.

Just as well that Niall Scully and Brian Howard took up the slack so brilliantly, Scully with his clinical brace of goals and Howard with the complete package of marks, assists and points.

Kilkenny, in fairness, had earned the right to one errant display after a stellar campaign. The wavering form of O'Callaghan and especially Mannion is sure to be more of a concern for Jim Gavin ... but will he bite the bullet and make changes? If so, Paul Flynn, Cormac Costello and Kevin McManamon are all ready and waiting.

Surgery

Gavin had already carried out 50pc surgery to his defence last Saturday with predictable recalls for Cian O'Sullivan and Jack McCaffrey plus a full debut for Eoin Murchan. If it's a case of horses for courses, he may well be tempted to restore John Small, back from suspension, for a renewal of his hitherto successful duel with Peter Harte.

Donegal posed some awkward questions for Dublin's revamped defence but, when it came to the crunch, not enough. Even though just four up, the holders were able to play keep-ball as they gently jogged down the home straight.

Surely that won't be the case in Omagh tonight? If Tyrone can edge their noses in front and get their running game up to speed early, expect fireworks. And surely the hosts, motivated by last year's bitter pill, will provide Dublin with their most testing 70 minutes of 2018?

We think it might play out that way. But we also suspect that a fired-up Tyrone is just what Dublin need to unleash the competitive beast within.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Tyrone 10/3 Draw 9/1 Dublin 1/3

VERDICT: Dublin

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