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Sunday 8 December 2019

Seismic victory over Tyrone in 2011 making of this team

Near perfect performance gave us belief to win Sam as weekend rivals can gain little in Omagh

Dublin’s Alan Brogan takes a shot at the posts as Tyrone’s Martin Swift tries to block in 2011
Dublin’s Alan Brogan takes a shot at the posts as Tyrone’s Martin Swift tries to block in 2011

Call me nostalgic but I watched the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final the other night on Youtube and decided instantly it was the greatest team performance I'd ever been part of.

It's funny.

We had a great sense after that match that we'd performed well and the win, all of seven points of it over Tyrone, probably convinced us that we would have a real crack at that year's All-Ireland.

But it doesn't really come up in conversations about the turning point for Dublin football.

Maybe that's because we'd beaten Tyrone the year before or because qualifying for an All-Ireland semi-final wasn't a rarity for most of that group.

Dublin supporters will regale you endlessly with stories about where they were when Clucko put the ball over the bar in the All-Ireland final against Kerry that year or their opinion on that infamous semi-final victory over Donegal.

But the Tyrone game was the one that made us. It was a coming-of-age performance.

Certainly, it was the best collective performance during my time with Dublin and you could make a decent argument for it being the best Dublin display in a decade where we've won six All-Irelands and still counting.

The only caveat being that Tyrone had tipped slightly past their peak.

But they represented such an obstacle for us because of those defeats in 2005 and '08 and they had the McMahons, the Cavanaghs, Conor Gormley, Philly Jordan, Brian McGuigan, Peter Harte, Owen Mulligan, Brian Dooher and Stephen O'Neill on the pitch that day.

We beat them in 2010 in the quarter-finals but that was more or less an ambush.

They were Ulster champions. We'd stumbled our way through the qualifiers and had no discernible form to speak of.

We conceded every kick-out that day and only won in the last five minutes, thanks mainly to an Eoghan O'Gara goal that came off an upright.

So 2011 was totally different.

We won by seven points that night but it could have been fifteen.

Part of how Pat Gilroy rebuilt our team after 2009 was changing how we thought about our contribution to the team.

Tackling become the most essential performance indicator in training, even for forwards.

Management's calculations told them that if collectively, we could make a 100 tackles in a match, we'd have a high percentage chance of winning it, almost regardless of what else happened.

That night against Tyrone, our tackle count was over 120.

We put on an exhibition of kick-passing that night as well.

I reckon we completed more kick-passes that night than any match I played in before or since.

We were raking 60 and 70-yard balls into the chest of our targets.

We, the forward line, had a field day but Diarmuid Connolly stole the show with seven from play, most of which came off Conor Gormley.

If they'd have been giving out marks for artistic merit that night, Diarmo would have gotten clean sixes across the board.

Viewed through the lens of how the game is predominantly played now, where possession is often cherished more than invention, our gameplan then seemed practically reckless.

It was all one-touch football around the middle to create space and then move the ball as quickly as possible to negate the Tyrone cover.

Our backs, most of whom were in their early 20s, didn't give their men an inch.

And we all dropped into the middle eight to get a high press on Tyrone, turning them over more times than they'd probably ever experienced under Mickey Harte.

The only black mark against us was that we passed up about five good goal chances.

We had three in a row we should have scored after half-time but that probably spared us the hype that would have accompanied us into the semi-final if we'd have won by fifteen or twenty points.

That was the night the tide truly turned on the relationship between Dublin and Tyrone and it's almost surreal to think they haven't beaten Dublin in the Championship since '08.

What their motivation is for Sunday, I just can't read at all.

If Tyrone go flat out and lose, what hope has Harte to convince his players they can beat Dublin in Croke Park in an All-Ireland final?

And for the players, it's a weird game.

A dead rubber is the last thing you want because you can't go out there half-arsed but by the same measure, it's impossible to escape the subconscious reality that regardless of how the game goes, the sun will rise on Monday and you'll have an All-Ireland semi-final in either six or seven days times.

There's no tangible reward for a win either.

I don't think Jim Gavin or Mickey Harte will have any preference for who they play in an All-Ireland semi-final, so there's no incentive to put players out there who might be carrying knocks and could do with a weekend of competitive rest.

Will Harte keep something back by way of a gameplan?

They certainly looked like they took Dublin by surprise back in March in the League with those direct balls to Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly.

Decent chance

But why show your hand when there's more than a decent chance the teams might meet again in four weeks in the All-Ireland final?

Don't for a second doubt the motivations of anyone who takes the pitch in Omagh on Sunday evening.

Just be careful of jumping to conclusions afterwards.

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