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Six days that shaped decade of the Dubs: Slap back for Red Hands

Kerry and Donegal live longer in memory but Tyrone coup de grace in 2011 'made us' - All-Ireland QF 2011, Dublin 0-22 Tyrone 0-15

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NO ROOM: Tyrone’s Mark Donnelly loses possession, as he is surrounded by
Dublin’s (l-r) Bryan Cullen, James McCarthy, Ger Brennan and Rory O’Carroll. Photo: SPORTSFILE

NO ROOM: Tyrone’s Mark Donnelly loses possession, as he is surrounded by Dublin’s (l-r) Bryan Cullen, James McCarthy, Ger Brennan and Rory O’Carroll. Photo: SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

NO ROOM: Tyrone’s Mark Donnelly loses possession, as he is surrounded by Dublin’s (l-r) Bryan Cullen, James McCarthy, Ger Brennan and Rory O’Carroll. Photo: SPORTSFILE

It is, as Alan Brogan reflected last year, an odd quirk of Dublin's uprising in 2011 that supporters will "regale you endlessly about where they were when Clucko put the ball over the bar in the All-Ireland final or their opinion on that infamous semi-final victory over Donegal."

And yet despite not having nearly the same prominence in the Dublin football psyche, Brogan is adamant.... "that Tyrone game was the one that made us".

Maybe it was the Monday morning consensus that Tyrone were on the way down anyway. That Dublin had simply pushed them off the ladder the previous dank, wet August Saturday night.

There was no arguing that Mickey Harte's team had cast a dim shadow to the fire-breathing sides who had inflicted so much anguish on Dublin in 2005 and '08.

Or it could have been the fact that the voodoo spell Tyrone had cast over Dublin for much of the previous decade had been broken a year previously, when Mickey Harte's Ulster champions lost clumsily to a Dublin team with no semblance of form or even any great sense of themselves.

Memories

Perhaps then, it was the freshness of the memories of the 2009 humiliation by Kerry, the 2010 embarrassment by Meath and the league final capitulation to Cork just four months previous.

But for a group of supporters who had never needed much encouragement to lose the run of themselves over the previous decade, there was as an underlying scepticism to the post-match reaction to what was without question, Dublin's finest Championship performance since the 1995 Leinster final.

And it wasn't just Dublin supporters who were dubious.

"Realistically," wrote John O'Keeffe in the follow Monday's Irish Times, "Dublin have yet to prove they can deliver this quality of performance on a consistent basis."

According to Eugene McGee in the Irish Independent, "There have to be caveats about Dublin's future until they actually do win the Sam Maguire Cup because they have failed so often in the closing stages for the past nine years."

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HAND OFF: Dublin’s Alan Brogan, fends off Dermot Carlin of Tyrone during the 2011 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

HAND OFF: Dublin’s Alan Brogan, fends off Dermot Carlin of Tyrone during the 2011 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

HAND OFF: Dublin’s Alan Brogan, fends off Dermot Carlin of Tyrone during the 2011 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

There was no disputing the quality of what Dublin had produced that evening.

"We could have scored 5-30 that night," Barry Cahill later reflected. "It was all free-flowing football, kick-passing, one-touch. Get the ball to the forwards and they'll do the damage."

***

Whether by design or just a function of his personality, Pat Gilroy was never prone to hyperbole as Dublin manager.

But even by his own standards, his post-match analysis of Diarmuid Connolly's performance took the art of understatement to its most abstract.

"I think he had a reasonable game, alright," Gilroy posited, mindful then that Connolly's display didn't require his personal five star endorsement to be big news over the following days.

Gilroy was the last person in Croke Park that needed to be convinced of Connolly's talent.

And the final few of those who require persuasion were emphatically swayed by the seven sweet points he scored that evening.

Had they been giving out marks for artistic merit, Connolly would have received clean sixes that night.

His kicking off both feet was exemplary.

Delicate finishes from angles. Long-range boomers.

His handling and ball control on a slippery evening were impeccable. His running, elusive and un-trackable.

"One of the best performances of score-taking I have ever seen in Croke Park," was how Alan Brogan recalled it.

But generally speaking, Gilroy's post-match assessments about his own team could be split into two distinct categories.

If Dublin won, it was due to their work rate. If they lost, it was because they hadn't worked hard enough.

And almost always, or at least wherever possible, he avoided isolating the performance of a single player, regardless of their scale of influence.

Still, we persisted.

"Diarmuid is capable of doing anything," Gilroy conceded, when he was eventually coaxed towards genuine observation.

"He's a phenomenal talent.

"And he is capable of doing even better than that," Gilroy admitted. "He is that good and we see it out at training.

"We have been waiting a while for that to come in a big game in Croke Park."

And if that was true of Connolly, it was also the case with Dublin.

***

Viewed through hindsight, there are formative moments in any successful GAA season.

For Dublin, a training camp in Carton House in the build-up to the quarter-final was when certain features of their game began to click.

A wing-back or at a stretch, midfielder, all his career, Barry Cahill played centre-forward on the 'A' team in a training match there, almost in tandem with Alan Brogan.

Cahill as a deep-dropping defensive outlet and Brogan as a more advanced, creative element.

Inside, Bernard Brogan's 2010 Footballer of the Year form had sustained and now, he had a more settled and tactically aware, Connolly for scoring assistance.

Dublin's defence was young but pacey and beginning to settle.

Rory O'Carroll's blunt-force approach to full-back play set the tone for all around him but earlier that summer, Gilroy and Mickey Whelan had made a decision about Cian O'Sullivan that would pay off handsomely.

O'Sullivan had been part of the squad since 2009 and his natural athleticism held obvious appeal as the St Vincent's duo reconstructed Dublin's defence.

But pace came at a price.

O'Sullivan's hair-trigger hamstrings threatened to stunt his inter-county growth and so, after a flare up towards the end of the league in 2011, management opted to put the Kilmacud Crokes man in cold storage until the All-Ireland quarter-final on the assumption of Dublin's presence.

Twice in the first half that night, O'Sullivan outpaced a Tyrone forward from behind, mood-setting plays on a night when Dublin were so physically superior to the once fearsome Ulster men, it seemed almost surreal.

Foremost among Dublin's key performance indicators that year was their tackle count.

Management calculated that if collectively, they made 100 tackles in a match, the strong likelihood is they would win.

That night, their tackle count was over 120.

The also kicked the ball with a frequency that would now be considered reckless, raking the sort of 60 and 70-yard passes that would soon go out of fashion in inter-county football.

But the only black mark against Dublin that night was that they passed up five good goal chances.

In hindsight, it may have been just as well. A 15-point victory over Tyrone wouldn't have done much for perspective.

And the fact remained that Dublin had administered a coup de grace to a once outstanding team who were overwhelmed by a younger, hungrier and more dynamic force.

Put in its most simple terms, Dublin blew Tyrone off the pitch that night.

After a decade of missteps, it was the surest indication yet that they were again ready to win an All-Ireland.

Scorers - Dublin: D Connolly 0-7, B Brogan 0-5, A Brogan 0-3, S Cluxton (1f, 1 '45'), P Flynn 0-2 each, B Cullen, D Bastick, B Cahill 0-1 each. Tyrone: M Penrose (3f), S Cavanagh (3f) 0-4 each, S O'Neill, M Donnelly 0-2 each, P Harte (1f), B Dooher, E McGinley 0-1 each.

Dublin: S Cluxton, M Fitzsimons, R O'Carroll, C O'Sullivan, J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan, D Bastick, MD Macauley, P Flynn, B Cahill, B Cullen, A Brogan, D Connolly, B Brogan. Subs: R McConnell for MD Macauley (58), K McManamon for P Flynn (65), E Fennell for D Bastick (68), P McMahon for K Nolan (inj 70)

Tyrone: McConnell, M Swift, Joe McMahon, Justin McMahon, S O'Neill, C Gormley, P Jordan, K Hughes, S Cavanagh, C Cavanagh, B McGuigan, P Harte, M Penrose, M Donnelly, O Mulligan. Subs: B Dooher for B McGuigan (h-t), D Carlin for Justin McMahon (h-t), S O'Neill for P Harte (43), E McGinley for K Hughes (52), A Cassidy for C Cavanagh (52) J McQuillan (Cavan)

Ref: J McQuillan (Cavan)

Att: 52,161