By Ronan McSherry
What a difference a year makes. Just over 12 months ago Tyrone supporters left Croke Park demoralised and hugely frustrated at the manner the Red Hand was shattered by the Dubs. Since Sunday, while defeat in an All-Ireland final is always a cause of heartache, the faithful have taken pride in the way the players went on the offensive, had a go, or in the parlance of former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton ‘gave it a lash.’
It was looking good for 20 minutes but a combination of human error and – most of all – Dublin class saw the Sam Maguire Cup float from our grasp.
For five years, ‘the critics the critics’ (also derided as ‘dinosaurs’) cried out forlornly for teams to express themselves rather than ape the horrific defensive walls of Jim McGuinness. After his recent utterings calling for more of the same, hopefully Jimmy will get a good job in soccer and stay well away from Gaelic football.
The Gaelic football train is leaving the station and heading for ‘Attacksville’ and Tyrone could be on it. I hope so.
Mickey Harte was correct post-match when he said, “The credit that our boys deserve is that they did not allow this to be a battering that it was last year and they fought to the bitter end.”
Sadly last year after conceding an early goal there was no other plan than defend Dublin into submission. That was never going to happen. The difference was most obvious with Mark Bradley left isolated with two Dublin backs and his nearest team-mate almost three-quarters of an acre upfield.
On Sunday the shackles were off and he was supported by other Tyrone players allowing him to express his undoubted flair. Being from Coalisland I know only too well how potent a forward is Bradley.
As Einstein said, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
This could be the start of a journey to play the game as Mickey Harte teams played in the past; a chance to see their talents and let them flourish.
Tyrone have good players. Any given Sunday there is barely a kick of a ball between Division One sides Tyrone, Kerry, Mayo, Monaghan, Donegal and Galway. There are no shortcuts, narrow pitches or cute hoorism to catching the Dubs.
The enlightened coaches have told us that teams can’t go toe-to-toe with them for 70 minutes but sooner or later a county is going to have to meet them head-on and be better than them.
That takes a lot of work and development but it can be done. It is time to swashbuckle the Jackeens off their perch as Mayo almost did in recent finals. At half-time in Omagh a Dublin supporter said to me, “Come out and play us.”
The Dubs want to play ball. Tyrone took the game to them in the closing stages and almost won the day. The good news is the penny seems to have dropped and after the dross of recent years there could be great games ahead; hallelujah!!
Whether this is the greatest team ever to have played Gaelic football is up for debate. The Kerry team of Pat Spillane’s era had better individual players but Jim Gavin, kick-started by Pat Gilroy, has moulded this group of players into a phenomenal unit. Their power, pace, movement and skill level is breathtaking, a joy to behold.
However no team dominates forever in sport; not Barcelona, not the All Blacks, not Crossmaglen, not even Kilkenny hurlers. The Dubs will eventually be dethroned.
“Funding, professionalism, population, home advantage…” cry the begrudgers.
Reality check: The other top competing county players don’t want for resources as they receive the very best in coaching, analysis, nutrition, and medical care. At underage level Dublin teams have struggled while Kerry has just completed a historic five-in-a-row All-Ireland minor titles. Kildare are U20 champions.
Money is poured into hurling structures in Dublin but their county teams continue to lag behind. Their camogie teams aren’t setting the world on fire while Cork have worn 11 of the last 13 All-Ireland Ladies football crowns.
The population of Dublin was always the biggest. As for home advantage, Dublin have also won the last three league titles with half the games played on the road and travelled to Omagh during the summer and continued their winning ways.
The professionalism cry is also flawed. Unpaid manager Jim Gavin is an aviation officer, Stephen Cluxton was back teaching kids at 9am on Tuesday, Jack McCaffrey has a doctor’s schedule to contend with while there are students, a physio, bank worker and an array of occupations make up the squad.
The success of Dublin is down to total dedication and a resolve to keep performing to an optimal level. Great teams come along from time to time. As GAA President Sean Kelly said before he handed the Sam Maguire Cup to Brian Dooher in 2005, “Let there be no begrudgery.”