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Tyrone hunger can devour Dublin


Up for it: Ronan McNamee (left) of Tyrone and Dublin’s Ciaran Kilkenny with the Sam Maguire Cup

Up for it: Ronan McNamee (left) of Tyrone and Dublin’s Ciaran Kilkenny with the Sam Maguire Cup

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Up for it: Ronan McNamee (left) of Tyrone and Dublin’s Ciaran Kilkenny with the Sam Maguire Cup

At the various pre-championship launches this year, I put my neck on the line and insisted that Dublin couldn't win again this year.

It was based on the following - however hard it is to get to the summit, it's even tougher to stay there; two in a row these days is an incredible achievement, I just didn't think three in a row would be doable, and that somebody, somewhere along the line, would deliver the knockout blow.

Sunday sees the first real chance for that to happen. It pitches a Tyrone side with it all to prove against a Dublin team who have done it all.

In the back of my mind I probably expected this game from a long way out. And here we are, on the brink of what could be a brilliant game.

I can't claim to have any concrete evidence that Dublin are on the slide or have let their standards drop, but I also don't think they have been in a meaningful game in the championship yet.

But even allowing for their late start to the season, there were small signs in the league that teams were starting to close the gap. We saw that when Kerry chinned them in the league final.

Tyrone are certainly on the up. If they don't win on Sunday I'm convinced there's an All-Ireland title in this team in the next two or three years. Still, there's no time like the present.

To pull it off, they'll have to play to a level they haven't previously reached. This is by far the greatest test they have faced.

That's because Dublin can play you any way you like. They've been around the block enough times that you won't put them off their game with the physical stuff.

Playing against massed defences won't spook them either like it might have done a few years ago. They can push up on the kick-outs and take it off you and they can sit on their '45' and soak up the pressure.

In attack, their ability to create space is brilliant. On occasion they counter with ferocious speed, yet at times their build-up play can be slow - but it is part of a bigger plan.

The movement of players around the man in possession is relentless. The full width of the pitch is used with unselfish runs being made to create little pockets of space in front of goal.

You can see Jason Sherlock's basketball background in the way the forwards play at times. Tyrone's defence is excellent but Dublin's multi-dimensional attack is the best they will have faced.

Tyrone come into this game in good form but will also know they haven't beaten Kerry, Mayo or Dublin in the championship since 2008, so they'll have to find a new level of performance.

The scoring threat they carry has been held up as the failing of this side. They can be a little predictable in how they go about getting scores but they have racked up good tallies this year and had at least 10 different scorers in each of their four outings. The signs are good, but on Sunday Tyrone have to get every facet of their game right.

They'll have to play at 100mph from the off. They have youth and hunger on their side and it will suit them to play the game at a high tempo.

They did that brilliantly against Donegal, yet against Down at times they looked slow and ponderous. If they can combine the running power they have in the team and have the likes of Sean Cavanagh, Mattie Donnelly and Padraig Hampsey chipping in with long-range points, they'll be right there at the end.

They'll have to be clever on kick-outs too. It's just not possible to effectively get after Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs from the first minute to the last. He's too quick, and it saps too much energy.

But there will be times when they can assert pressure. They just have to choose them wisely.

There are a couple of other factors that will have a big say in how the game goes.

I think Diarmuid Connolly is too good a footballer to leave out of the starting team and it looks like there's a spot he could be dropped into in the half-forward line. But if he comes off the bench it will lift Dublin too, so that looks like a win-win situation for Jim Gavin.

The other important issue is referee David Coldrick. The influence he can have on the outcome can't be underestimated. Modern teams tackle as a collective now and love to get numbers around the ball carrier. Coldrick's interpretation of that will be key, particularly for Tyrone because I don't think there is anyone better than Dean Rock at kicking frees just now.

There are so many variables that will decide this game, not least the substitutes used and when they are introduced.

The Brogan-O'Gara double act are not what a defence want to see coming into the final 20 minutes but Tyrone have good options to bring in. Their replacements have contributed 4-12 so far in this championship but the respective benches reflect the game as a whole.

Dublin and Gavin will be turning to proven game winners. Harte will be introducing talented but unproven players at this level.

At the end, I think that Tyrone can pull it off. You don't really know what desire burns in the pit of a player's stomach until you actually go and put him to the pin of his collar and ask him to find a way out of it.

So when it comes to the fight, Tyrone should have the greater desire than a team who have been at the top for so long. I'll get my answer at around 5.30 on Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph