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Wednesday 19 December 2018

Theories on how to stop Dubs failing

NASTY CLASH: Tyrone’s Kieran McGeary (l) and Hugh Pat McGeary tussle with Dublin’s Michael Darragh Macauley (with the support of Cormac Costello) during their All-Ireland SFC Group 2 Phase 2 clash at Healy Park in Omagh on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
NASTY CLASH: Tyrone’s Kieran McGeary (l) and Hugh Pat McGeary tussle with Dublin’s Michael Darragh Macauley (with the support of Cormac Costello) during their All-Ireland SFC Group 2 Phase 2 clash at Healy Park in Omagh on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Add taking them out of Croke Park and reducing the size of the pitch to the growing list of redundant theories about how to beat Dublin.

By the time they play their now-confirmed All-Ireland semi-final against yet-to-be decided opponents on the weekend of August 11/12, it will be almost four full years since Dublin lost a Championship match.

Many and varied have the theories been since then about how best to finish a match with a higher score than Jim Gavin's team, but they've all been rendered ill-judged to various extents over the past 25 games.

When next they put that record up to be broken against Roscommon in two Sundays' time in a match of no consequence to the rest of Dublin's summer, 1,435 days will have passed.

Yet the big ideas of how to stop them are drying up.

THEORY #1: TAKE THEM OUT OF CROKE PARK

Saturday evening in Omagh wasn't exactly 'Welcome to Hell' stuff.

Last year's League draw with Kerry in Tralee was played in a more hostile environment, generated equally by opposition players and supporters.

And afterwards, Jim Gavin spoke of "the fantastic welcome from the Tyrone officials" he and his team enjoyed and the "excitement" generated by travelling to an opposition's home for a Championship match.

Other than Killarney or perhaps Ballybofey, it's difficult to envisage a more difficult away day for Dublin than Healy Park yet Saturday was their third successive victory there in League and Championship.

Natural habitat

Granted, it's a small sample size but Dublin's last Championship loss outside their natural habitat of Croke Park was the 2001 All-Ireland quarter-final replay loss to Kerry.

Of the 16,205 in attendance on Saturday night, at least half were Dublin supporters and only late in the second half, as Tyrone reduced their deficit from five points to two between the 67th and 72nd minute, did they seem to feed off any local familiarity or derive energy from their support.

Then, Dublin did what they always do, regardless of where they play.

Cradle possession, run down the clock, suck in the opposition and then pounce, as Paul Flynn scored the closing point of the match for the second Championship game in a row.

THEORY #2: MAKE THE PITCH SMALLER

Officially, the pitch in Healy Park measures 142m x 86m, significantly tighter than the 165m x 98m expanse of Croke Park where Dublin usually thrive.

The dimensions of the playing surface were noticably smaller again on Saturday evening, however.

Jim Gavin shrugged it off afterwards, almost to the point of pretending to be unaware of the change, but members of his management team had wandered across to the touchline on the opposite side of the ground in Healy Park to where the dug outs are before the match to inspect the alteration.

Even Tyrone's players noticed the abridgement in their warm-up, although what effect it had was open to interpretation.

Last year, in the All-Ireland semi-final Dublin won by 12 points, Gavin's team used every inch of Croke Park to stretch Tyrone's defence and then launch torpedoes through the gaps.

That they scored 1-14 on Saturday night compared with 2-17 last August suggests the more claustrophobic conditions had some reductive influence on their creativity but if anything, Dublin's tackling on the night was more destructive to Tyrone's attacks than vice versa.

THEORY #3: PRESS UP ON CLUXTON'S KICK-OUTS

Not nearly so easily done as said but Tyrone had their moments.

Kieran McGeary's two points off the bench were the end product but the genesis was three Cluxton restarts Tyrone turned either directly or indirectly into attacks.

Yet after apparently receiving some instruction from Dublin's Maor Foirne Jason Sherlock, Cluxton nailed his last two kicks, ensuring the essential currency of possession at that critical stage.

THEORY #4: HAMMER THE HAMMER

During Saturday night's game, Colm Cooper - one of the greats from the county that spawned the above phrase - Tweeted: 'Is James Mccarthy the most affective (sic) player in Gaelic football right now?"

It was a fair point.

McCarthy's awesome burst for Dublin's second half goal was effectively the winning of the game, yet he was taken off late on having coughed up possession in contact on an unusually high number of occasions.

So the question is: which hammer?

Tyrone curbed the scoring threats of Con O'Callaghan and Paul Mannion and even reigned in Brian Fenton's aerial influence to a greater degree than Donegal managed last week in Croke Park, although he still drove Dublin forward relentlessly.

Yet Brian Howard's sheer industry in the first half was enormous.

Priced at 9/4 before the match for an All Star, Howard is having a debut season to rival Con O'Callaghan's of 2017.

And then, as ever, Dublin's leaders stepped up to finish off the game.

Jonny Cooper was both aggressive and technically pristine in his tackling at the end while Ciarán Kilkenny - who kicked two points earlier in the game - orchestrated the final few minutes like a chess grandmaster moving stealthily towards check mate against a lesser opponent.

Tyrone had other little victories on Saturday night, too.

Their bench outscored Dublin's by 0-4 to 0-2 - a rare eclipsing of Gavin's reserve scoring.

They prevented the early Dublin goal that according to Mickey Harte, pole-axed their chances last summer.

They tilted as many of the percentages in their favour as they possibly could and yet still didn't get within swinging distance of Dublin, although the inexplicable wide kicked by Ronan O'Neill from a late free that would have left just a single point in it will haunt them this week.

More than any team over the last four years and 25 games, Mayo have come the closest to beating Dublin yet their inability to execute the big plays in the most vital, game-deciding situations has killed them.

The Dubs do it almost out of habit.

Until some team ascends to that level of excellence under pressure, they'll just keep on winning.

Regardless of the venue or the size of the pitch.

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