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Tyrone look well placed despite loss to Dublin in phony war

Tyrone 0-13 Dublin 1-16

Chase is on: Tyrone’s Ciaran McLaughlin under the watch of Dublin’s Paddy Small
Chase is on: Tyrone’s Ciaran McLaughlin under the watch of Dublin’s Paddy Small
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

A phony war ended when Dublin substitute Eoghan O'Gara palmed home a pass played by Sean Bugler across the face of Benny Gallen's goal, to push Dublin six points in front with a minute of injury-time left.

You'll remember O'Gara's name from way back, including 2010 when he slammed home a major against Tyrone to dump them out of the All-Ireland quarter-final. A lot has changed since.

While being named to start here, O'Gara only got on the pitch with 44 minutes gone for his first football all summer for Dublin.

And the All-Ireland quarter-finals are now a league affair, leading to games such as this; Championship football, in front of 15,315 paying punters in Healy Park, but absolutely nothing at stake. Strange days indeed.

Matter of fact, it doesn't take Rumpole to stand the case up that the advantage was in losing the game, therefore finishing second in the group and getting a full day more of rest than the other semi-final.

As it stands, Tyrone will face Kerry on Sunday, and Dublin have Mayo on Saturday evening.

"There was no dead rubber in that game. We didn't take it that way," said Tyrone manager Mickey Harte afterwards, to the ever-rising eyebrows of the press corps scattered in front of him.

"It was a question of who would be top of the group and who would be second.

"Obviously we have been on the road for five weeks and most of our players have played most of that game time so it was an opportunity to give them a rest and say to the players who had been looking for more game time during that run, 'Here's your chance against the top team in the country'.

"And we know Dublin didn't put out their first team either. But at the same time you are playing against a high standard when you are playing against anyone who puts on a Dublin jersey.

"I think our players got valuable experience there today of what it's like to play against any Dublin team and I think they came through it with a lot of credit."

All of that is fine and well. This was Tyrone's 21st game of 2019. They had Derry and Antrim beaten in Ulster before getting derailed by Donegal, who exited the Championship on Saturday in Castlebar. After that, trips to Longford, Kildare, Cavan in Clones, Roscommon and then Cork in Croke Park got them into their third consecutive All-Ireland semi-final.

It's been some graft getting there, but now Harte believes he can focus on Kerry.

"We didn't know who it was going to be," said Harte.

"We went into this game knowing that we had two options depending on our result today. And we had no preference.

"Our preference was to top the group and we didn't do that, so that's disappointing. I think it's disappointing that the scoreline, when you read it in days to come, it will look like we were well and truly beaten and that's not the case."

As for the story of the game, Tyrone had a couple of goal chances butchered after two high balls put Dublin in a spot of bother midway through the first half. Four Cormac Costello frees gave Dublin a platform that they would never relinquish.

In fairness, Tyrone weren't looking as if they particularly wanted to win the thing either. Without being privy to management intentions, the suspicion is that the Red Hands wanted to face Kerry rather than Mayo.

There were times when those in the stadium were on the cusp of getting excited, before suddenly remembering that the whole game was an exercise in futility. Dublin's team even had six changes to the programme prior to proceedings getting under way.

The day took on other fascinations. In Gallen and Evan Comerford, Tyrone and Dublin found they have able deputies in the goalkeeper's berth. Michael Cassidy and Tiernan McCann got more time on the pitch and Brian Kennedy looks like he can give Tyrone something completely different - in time - as well as Connor McAliskey looking hungry.

For Dublin, a first start for the elegant Bugler brought a man-of-the-match award from RTÉ. He clipped over three points from play and was easily the best of the middle eight players on show.

And then there was Dermo. Diarmuid Connolly's first game back after an exile from February 2018 was always going to attract attention.

His performance was fairly peripheral, hitting two wides to ironic jeers from Tyrone fans. And then, after pulling down Ciaran McLaughlin, he was black carded one minute from the end of normal time.

As he strolled over to the sideline beaming with a smile, he was given a handshake by manager Jim Gavin.

"I just said, 'Well done'," said Gavin of the exchange between player and coach.

"I thought he did very well for us. He did well for the team and that's what we expect from our players and he did that to the nth degree."

Asked if it was a big call bringing the St Vincent's man back in, Gavin added: "No, I think Diarmuid loves Dublin and we love him. Circumstances change for all players. They volunteer their time and we're delighted he played really well for the team."

Finally, finally we have knockout football next weekend with the two All-Ireland semi-finals.

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