Mickey Harte really is the Bill Shankly of Gaelic games. No sooner had his side completed their second-half demolition of Roscommon than he was seamlessly talking up Dublin. Northern papers have engaged in the usual provincial flag-waving and stories about how tough the Dubs challenge will be.
Ulster folk find it hard to conceal their confidence that Tyrone will take Dublin and are rubbing their hands at the prospect of proving their doubters wrong. Tyrone thrive on criticism, but this time the bandwagon is already in full swing.
And, to be fair, it’s hard to blame them. Most of us try to read the form of a team and sometimes don’t give due credit to experience, which helps a player, more than anything else, to get his head right on the big day.
I was one of those who felt Tyrone were in a downward spiral, struggling to integrate new players into an incredibly successful, but ageing panel.
Truth is, though, they have managed it as the championship has progressed and they still possess the ability — never matched by any other side — to turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye.
Sean Cavanagh looks back to his best, Joe McMahon is flying, while veterans like Conor Gormley have maintained the trust of the manager and are prospering as a result.
Owen Mulligan and Brian Dooher appeared at half-time last week and 10 minutes later the game was effectively over.
Allied to that, Harte can be really happy with how the likes of Peter Harte, Mark Donnelly and Aidan Cassidy are faring. Colm Cavanagh was immense for them against Roscommon.
It’s also worth reiterating the individual skills most Tyrone players possess. The minor conveyor belt in the county produces footballers whose feet and hands don’t let them down. They all play to the same system, everything at pace; everyone prepared to work till they drop. Most importantly, they can convert chances economically.
So, on the face of it, this looks set up for a repeat of 2008 — Dublin coming in after a long lay-off, fancied by the bookies and pundits… Tyrone revitalised on the back of a good qualifier run. There’s even heavy rain forecast for tomorrow night!
However, there are a number of subtle differences I think will come into play.
While Tyrone kicked this contest away last year, they did so under a different level of pressure applied by Dublin’s new approach. Dublin got little credit for that, but the system is now more established and Tyrone are unlikely to get anything cheaply tomorrow. They will earn their scores the hard way.
We know that Bernard and Alan Brogan, if they play to potential, are capable of causing huge problems. Harte favours man markers, but after McMahon and Gormley, his options are limited and I feel, one way or another, the Brogans are going to do damage.
Harte was right to highlight this week that there is far more to the Dublin attack than the Brogans, but you suspect that — just as Kerry often do — Tyrone will target Dublin where they are strongest. And much as Kerry, Tyrone and various other counties try to focus on the hype in Dublin and unrealistic expectations, things have changed in the capital.
The Dubs might be slight favourites tomorrow, but no one in Dublin is under any illusions about the extent of the challenge; that feeds through to players. Good football and hurling are now being systematically nurtured in Dublin and critics can no longer claim it’s all fur coats and no knickers.
And, as a result of the various set-backs suffered over the past 10 years, hype is much better managed, expectations are realistic.
If Dublin’s injuries, Eoghan O’Gara aside, have cleared up then Pat Gilroy’s options — with Philly McMahon and Michael Darragh Macauley back — are also broad enough to at least counter Harte’s 20-man approach.
Gilroy needs to be able to shadow Harte’s hand right to the end when Stephen O’Neill might be sprung.
Where I would be concerned for Dublin is the lack of attacking support from defence. The way Dublin play championship football, they’re generally trying to withstand a comeback at some point. To do this with numbers funnelling back alone, is suicidal.
Dublin should have learnt this lesson from the experiences against Cork.
If Dublin play on the front foot at the crucial points of this game and have the right personnel on the park for the last 15 minutes to match Tyrone’s second-half set-up, I believe they have progressed enough to win. I wouldn’t be too concerned about their poor showing in the Leinster final. Their target has always been the month of August.
This is the acid test for Harte’s rejigged squad. Just like Kerry, Tyrone see victory over Dublin as a necessary springboard on the road to All-Ireland success. Silence the Hill, handle the pressure of the 65,000 crowd and you can push on and handle a final. And just like Kerry, Tyrone don’t fear Dublin.
As Mayo showed last Sunday, Dublin know there is only one way to deal with that.