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Declan Bogue: Tyrone can smash Dublin's historic All-Ireland bid

Tough to take: Tyrone’s Kieran McGeary dejected after the defeat against Dublin last year
Tough to take: Tyrone’s Kieran McGeary dejected after the defeat against Dublin last year
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Last September 3, the Tyrone team bus pulled into the main drag of Aughnacloy, the day after the All-Ireland defeat to Dublin.

This was their first sight of their home county since they had left on the Saturday morning with specially commissioned songs, hype and chatter ringing in their ears as they buzzed down the road.

Now, it was carnage. Players trooped onto the makeshift stage of an open-back lorry trailer looking very sorry for themselves. Some simply couldn't face it and they dodged into the front bar of a restaurant where they were left alone.

On the stage, captain Mattie Donnelly said in a brief speech: "We can't wait to get back and start the process of kicking the door down, and we look forward to going on that journey with you as well."

Forget about the league campaign, the early, ugly defeats to Kerry and Mayo as they shook off the hangover of All-Ireland defeat and a team holiday. The journey starts now, this Sunday in Healy Park against Derry.

There would have been a time when this match was all-ticket.

But how much interest is there in going along to a game that has the home team priced up at 1/10, even though the rain is forecast to hold off in Omagh?

So far, so low-key. That suits Tyrone tremendously. This game for them is one of the thankless tasks that arrive early in the season.

Hammer Derry and the narrative is already there that Tyrone were not tested and indeed won't be with a quarter-final against Antrim before a semi-final meeting with the winners of Fermanagh and Donegal.

Let's take a quick turn right and see what others are saying. Tomás Ó Sé is that rare thing in a Kerryman - utterly unwilling to use his media platform for purposes of cute hoorism.

When a Kerry player as decorated as the Ventry man makes the point that his Kerry side were beaten by Tyrone in every game that mattered in his playing career, then his authenticity is not up for debate.

After the first couple of league games in 2018, he had this to say about Tyrone: "If Tyrone are realistic about winning an All-Ireland they have to change their style of play and you can't have one style in Ulster and another for the All-Ireland series. They scored 1-8 from play the last day and we saw that the scores from play that they got came from long balls.

"They have the players to do it and the skill set to do it and I think they could be way more dangerous as an attacking threat. I think it is too easy to play against them."

Tyrone may have defied him to some extent by reaching an All-Ireland final, but also lost three big games all summer.

While they opened the final brightly against Dublin, their propensity for making mistakes cost them. At its highest level now, Gaelic football matches are determined by two overall factors - the ability of teams to make things happen and, by the same token, eliminate the mistakes.

Tyrone didn't need to make many mistakes in last year's final against Dublin.

But the concession of a penalty, expertly converted by Paul Mannion, along with their inability to retain their own kickout once Dublin went into a zonal formation after the first few examples, was all the Dubs needed.

It's difficult to know whether Tyrone would have just 'evolved' their play the way they have without an imposed rule change. But in came the 'Offensive Mark'. For the last number of years a fleet of tidy, skilful, small forwards have graduated into Tyrone senior teams but it turns out a little ignorance and a bigger backside goes a long way.

With a free shot of goal for anyone who could catch a 20-yard kick pass, Matthew Donnelly was asked to reprise a role we first saw way back in a 5-16 to 0-7 win over Armagh in the 2014 Dr McKenna Cup.

Back then he could catch the ball, plant his foot and drive straight at the defence. With the new rule, all he and Cathal McShane had to do was catch the ball and they had a shot at goal. A gift.

So many things happen by accident in sport. This was one of them. The rule is gone now for the Championship, of course, but the philosophy may remain.

The prospect left Ó Sé to comment last week: "Tyrone actually excite me, because they look to have changed philosophy on a fundamental level.

"There looks a better balance to the team. Mickey Harte believes they have better maturity around the middle of the field to facilitate that. I agree with him.

"Tyrone are playing more direct football this year and it's making them more dangerous. But, with the way they work a ball out of defence, I can still see them getting turned over by a good team with a high press. A team like Dublin.

"It's impossible to know how anybody will be going in August, but ask me to pick a team that might just bring the pressure of history to bear on Dublin and Tyrone would probably be my choice."

Sunday will provide the first chunk of evidence. Can the gap be closed?

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