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Tyrone suffer in final thriller

By Declan Bogue

Dublin 0-18 Tyrone 0-17: Dublin have been crowned National League champions for the first time in 20 years after a dramatic two-point contribution from substitute Dean Rock stole the lead away from Tyrone in the closing stages at Croke Park.

This was a league final that mattered. A rarity. Normally, the Irish National Insurance Cup is not greeted with scenes such as these.

Established protocol for the victors is to toss the trophy into the hull of the team bus, eager not to be seen to celebrate and having made a dressing room vow that they would not talk about this dirty secret.

This game, however, was a glorious romp of full-on football, both sides placing an embargo on blanket defences or sweeper systems.

Tyrone were concealing plenty before they play Donegal in the first round of the Ulster Championship in Ballybofey on May 26.

Despite the haunted expressions of management and players, they have an awful lot to be pleased with despite landing home empty-handed.

They were already operating with a major handicap when we got a glimpse of Joe McMahon, and not the usual captain Stephen O'Neill, leading the team out.

O'Neill had been in the form of his life, but his curse of bizarre injuries struck again before throw-in, stepping on a football and going over on his ankle in the pre-game warm-up area.

Stranger still, the exact same thing happened to Sean Cavanagh prior to the 2008 All-Ireland quarter-final against, you guessed it, Dublin. Spooky.

As the game commenced it was clear that Dublin had decoded Tyrone's kickouts as they established a solid lead through two Bernard Brogan free-kicks and a brilliant brace from Diarmuid Connolly.

Mark Donnelly produced a goalbound drive to lay off for O'Neill's replacement Conor McAliskey to open his account, before Mattie Donnelly stroked another over.

A minute later Mark Donnelly was hauled down by Jack McCaffrey and Niall Morgan ventured forward to experience Hill 16 in almost all its glory. He nailed the pressure kick and punched the air as a release.

Without a Tyrone sweeper to contend with, Dublin were finding their scores handier with Paul Mannion and Paddy Andrews dangerous in possession.

In the other corner, Bernard Brogan was utterly mastered by Cathal McCarron.

By the interval, the scores were tied at 10 points apiece.

Morgan was having an inspired day from the placed ball. He drilled over a tricky shot two minutes into the second half for his third point to put Tyrone in front for the first time.

Tyrone kept nosing in front with, among other scores, a '45' and a free from over 50 metres through Morgan, only to be pegged back through Dublin persistence and Marty Duffy's willingness to blow for some soft frees.

This game was there for Mickey Harte's (pictured with Jim Gavin) men if they had displayed enough composure in the final quarter.

Three minutes were on the clock when Dean Rock wriggled into a space somewhere between big hitters Mattie Donnelly and Sean Cavanagh to level the game, and after Kevin McManamon bustled himself out of a tight corner, Rock gave Dublin the lead.

McCaffrey made an attempt to lob Morgan that was pushed over but Sean Cavanagh set-up a tense finish with an almost instant reply.

The last kickout ended up in Sean Cavanagh's hands and he was subject to some rough defending which could have earned a free.

But it wasn't to be. Dublin are champions and may well retain their billing as favourites for the big dance in September.

Meanwhile, Tyrone look very, very good. And they are going to get better. Roll on Ballybofey.

Tyrone: N Morgan (0-5, 4f, 1x'45'); PJ Quinn, D Carlin, C McCarron; C Gormley (0-1), C Clarke, Mattie Donnelly (0-1); C Cavanagh, Joe McMahon; Mark Donnelly (0-1), S Cavanagh (0-4, 1f), Justin McMahon; M Penrose (0-2, 2f), C McAliskey (0-3), P McNeice. Subs: A Cassidy for Carlin (31), P Kane for Justin McMahon (ht), K Coney for McNeice (57), R McKenna for Gormley (65), D McCurry for Cassidy (70)

DUBLIN: S Cluxton (0-1, 1f); K O'Brien, J Cooper, D Daly; J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey (0-1); MD Macauley, C O'Sullivan; B Cullen (0-1), D Connolly (0-2), J Whelan; P Mannion (0-4, 1f), P Andrews (0-1), B Brogan (0-5, 5f). Subs: S Carthy for Whelan (ht), K McManamon for Cullen (46), D Bastick for O'Sullivan (47), P McMahon (0-1) for Macauley (52), D Rock (0-2) for Brogan (58)

Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)

Attendance: 33,143

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