Tyrone 0-15 Dublin 0-22: Time waits for no man. The past eight years have proved a treasure trove of glowing memories for Tyrone but now suddenly and quite dramatically the harshest of reality checks has almost certainly signalled the end of the old order.
Since assuming command in 2003, the charismatic Mickey Harte has overseen a catalogue of achievements that is unlikely to be repeated within a similar time span in the future — three All-Ireland crowns, four Ulster titles, a litany of individual honours and unprecedented status for a county that had for most part resided on the margins of Gaelic football up until his arrival.
All good things come to an end, though.
When a jet-propelled Dublin side scaled a new peak in terms of effort, technique and sublime finishing skills in consigning Tyrone’s cherished dream of a fourth All-Ireland crown to the rubbish basket, they not only transformed the landscape but clinically brought the curtain down on what has been a spectacular era of Red Hands’ success.
As Harte continues to sift through the debris of his team’s performance against Pat Gilroy’s inspired troops, in front of 52,661 fans, he can take comfort from the fact that no side, including Kerry, would have lived with the Dubs in this majestic form.
Yet it is worth recalling that Dublin’s recent history in the All- Ireland series is dotted with instances of self-harm and a marked penchant for flattering to deceive.
But on this occasion it was as if the Dubs, starved of the Sam Maguire Cup since 1995, had entered into a pact with the Almighty since we were left struggling for superlatives to do justice to an almost faultless exhibition of the old game — an exhibition that was served up, too, in driving rain on a slippery surface and against a mischievous breeze.
Telepathic understanding, impeccable kick-passing, mind-blowing finishing and a robot-like defensive mechanism transported Dublin onto another planet altogether for the best part of what was a truly defining championship encounter.
Harte had quite rightly refuted the suggestion made earlier in the year that his side were ‘ageing’— but this setback put years on players and supporters alike!
Statistics occasionally fail to portray the real narrative of a contest — and it was the same again here if from a somewhat different perspective.
Just how did Dublin fail to get at least one goal? And when did a full-forward line last land 0-14 from play in a major championship tie? When too did Tyrone last score just two points from play in the first half of an important tie?
Dublin, let it be said, would not have been flattered by a victory margin well into double figures such was the mesmeric quality of their stellar display.
By half-time Diarmuid Connolly, poetry in motion throughout, had already assured himself of the man of the match award having caressed over five exquisite points while the Tyrone full-back line of Martin Swift and brothers Joe and Justin McMahon had virtually disintegrated in the face of a full-frontal onslaught.
With Ger Brennan anchoring a disciplined defence, Michael Daragh Macauley and David Bastick masters of all they surveyed at midfield, Barry Cahill the shrewdest of playmakers and the brilliant Connolly along with the Brogan brothers Alan and Bernard irrepressible up front, the Dublin juggernaut drove through Tyrone’s morale at a ferocious pace.
Sean Cavanagh’s three points from frees and another by Peter Harte from a placed ball with Mark Donnelly the sole scorer from play (0-2) had helped to keep Tyrone hanging on by their fingertips at half time (0-11 to 0-5).
And it was their turn to benefit from what could only have been divine intervention when Dublin inexplicably missed four superbly-crafted goal opportunities in a five-minute spell shortly after the break.
Instead, they were forced to settle for a four-point blitz from Connolly — he scored 0-7 in all — Bastick, the busy Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan. But Dublin’s goal profligacy represented nothing more than a stay of execution.
With Conor Gormley defiance personified, Sean Cavanagh digging deep, Philip Jordan as energetic as ever and substitute Stephen O’Neill along with Martin Penrose beavering tirelessly up front, the Red Hands scored just two fewer points than their august hosts in the second period, a telling commentary on their grit and pride.
But with Connolly and the Brogans having already ushered a reinvigorated Dublin into a quarter-final meeting with Donegal, Tyrone’s last jabs of resistance were by and large swatted aside.
Referee Joe McQuillan’s final whistle not only formally confirmed Tyrone’s fate but could well have sounded the death-knell on the distinguished careers of players like Brian Dooher, Ryan McMenamin (a non-starter on Saturday), Kevin Hughes, Philip Jordan, Brian McGuigan and Enda McGinley.
Indeed, Tyrone may not see their like again.
Dublin: S Cluxton (0-2, 1f, 1'45); M Fitzsimons, R O'Carroll, C O'Sullivan; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; D Bastick (0-1), M D Macauley; P Flynn (0-2), B Cahill (0-1), B Cullen (0-1); A Brogan (0-3), D Connolly (0-7), B Brogan (0-5, 1f). Subs: R McConnell for Macauley (58 mins), K McManamon for Flynn (65), E Fennell for Bastick (69), P McMahon (70) for Nolan. Yellow cards: Macaualey (34 mins), Nolan (46).
Tyrone: P McConnell; M Swift, Joe McMahon, Justin McMahon; Sean O'Neill, C Gormley, P Jordan; K Hughes, S Cavanagh (0-4, 3f); C Cavanagh, B McGuigan, P Harte (0-1, 1f); M Penrose (0-4, 3f), M Donnelly (0-2), O Mulligan. Subs: B Dooher (0-1) for McGuigan, D Carlin for Justin McMahon (both half-time), Stephen O'Neill (0-2) for Harte (43), E McGinley (0-1) for Hughes (52), A Cassidy for C Cavanagh (52). Yellow cards: Hughes (38 mins), Stephen O’Neill (50 mins).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).