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Red Hand reality check could prove positive for Dubs

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Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Picture: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Picture: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Picture: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

MANY of us may pine for that distant teenage Utopia – the weekend lie-in – but instead, last weekend, we witnessed a wake-up call.

Up to around 7.0 last Saturday night, some of you may have been labouring under the assumption that this year's All-Ireland senior football championship has already been played... and that Sam Maguire has already taken up permanent residence in John Costello's office.

It's now Tuesday and it has duly come to your attention that Sam is, in fact, still ensconced in the faraway hills of Donegal.

What has changed in the interim? Not a lot, save for a salutary lesson to remind the more exultant of our Sky Blue brethren that the lavishly praised footballers of Dublin are not quite heirs apparent to Donegal's throne. We even suspect that, privately, Jim Gavin may welcome this altered landscape.

Clearly, Dublin losing a league match in March is a temporary setback as opposed to a reason for alarm bells.

But what the one-point Tyrone defeat did underline is Dublin's vulnerability – like most teams – to the vagaries of player absenteeism in key roles. In other words, Gavin may possess a luxury of options, but that doesn't mean he can seamlessly replace his best players without any negative effect on the overall team dynamic.

 

Machine

On Saturday night, he started without his captain Stephen Cluxton (rested for the second week running); the full-back force of nature that is Rory O'Carroll; and the scoring machine that is Bernard Brogan. Guess what? Dublin weren't the same team without them.

It would be entirely wrong to imply that Shane Supple, an excellent netminder in his own right, somehow cost Dublin victory while keeping a clean sheet.

However, Cluxton's radar-like boot was missed, partly from kickouts but more glaringly from deadball situations: Diarmuid Connolly was short from an early '45', Supple made a hash of another, then Connolly was miles wide from another 40m free that Cluxton might well have taken (and probably nailed).

The presumption is that Cluxton will return for the matches that matter. Ditto with Brogan once he shakes off a minor leg knock and O'Carroll once he gets over last week's ankle surgery. The latter duo's importance was underlined by their absence against Tyrone. Paul Caffrey revealed his mystic qualities last week when suggesting O'Carroll was Dublin's one "irreplaceable" player.

 

Emergency

Stephen O'Neill's majestic point-taking seemed to confirm that Ger Brennan is not the answer, albeit another wandering centre-back (Cian O'Sullivan) fared somewhat better when pressed into emergency full-back duties.

Kevin O'Brien? An option, perhaps, given his success in the role for last year's U-21s – but it makes far more sense, right now, for O'Brien to learn his trade in the corner instead of pressing him (prematurely) into such a pivotal position.

As for Dublin's ability to thrive without Bernard?

Well, the stats don't lie and their scoring returns predictably suffered – even if 1-14 would have been sufficient to win all three earlier outings in Croker, against Cork, Mayo and Kildare.

In summary, if Saturday's defeat quells even some of the rising hysteria about Dublin's All-Ireland prospects, that may yet prove a long-term positive.

By the same token, Ballymun's gut-wrenching loss to a brilliant St Brigid's – in Sunday's All-Ireland club final – also reminded us that there are no certainties in sport, even when eight points up.

Yet that reality check scarcely qualifies as a consolation and certainly not a positive for those Dublin players, such as James McCarthy and Philly McMahon, who have put their bodies and souls into Ballymun's club adventure. It may take them a while longer for the physical injuries (in McCarthy's case) and the mental wounds to heal.


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