Denis Bastick column: Dublin and Tyrone to be last men standing
By Denis Bastick
I’ve enough bad memories of All-Ireland semi-finals to last a lifetime.
Blowing a seven-point lead to Mayo in 2006. Squandering a five point lead against Cork in 2010. Losing a shoot out with Kerry in 2007 and Mayo in 2012. The Donegal disaster of 2014. These were days when Dublin teams had their shortcomings put on public display.
Thankfully, I’ve also seen the other side of the coin. Truthfully, when I look back I have as many fond memories of those semi-final victories as I do of All-Ireland success in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
There’s something about the long deep exhale of relief and satisfaction when you hear the final whistle in an Al-Ireland semi-final and you are on the right side of the result.
It’s the relief that you are there. After all the work, all the sacrifice, there is only one match left in the season and you are in it. Worrying about winning the final can wait for another day. The thing is you are there and part of it and get to savour the build-up to the occasion that every player has dreamed of but only few are lucky enough to experience.
Experience is crucial and Dublin have a clear advantage this weekend. They know what it’s like – they know what it takes and last week they clearly showed what everyone has long suspected – that they have the strength in depth to help make their dreams a reality.
Galway are in a funny place this week.
After the victory over Kerry they were being talked about as one of the teams of the season – yet another high in a 2018 of great achievement.
But now they face the prospect of the year ending for them on the back of two straight defeats - a tame performance at home to Monaghan and the potential of a beating at the hands of Dublin.
It would be a terrible way for a year of so much progress to end up and you have to think it will provoke a response from Kevin Walsh’s men on Saturday.
The match with Monaghan perfectly captured the different mental states of the two teams. Monaghan produced a stellar display because in their eyes it was a do or die championship match where everything depended on it.
Galway failed to match their hunger and intensity because maybe deep down they knew they were already in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
When it came to the crunch the match mattered more to Monaghan and that’s how it played out.
I don’t believe Kevin Walsh was deliberately holding his players back but I think human nature has to be factored into this. What was to be gained in Galway putting everything on the line to win a match that they knew they didn’t need to win?
Croke Park on Saturday will tell us whether this was the case - or if there is a bigger issue at play for Galway: the nightmare scenario that they have run out of steam.
Galway put in a savage effort to prove they were not relegation material in the league and ended up reaching the final. They then had to peak for their big opening round game with Mayo in Connacht. And they then had to dig really deep to produce a great second half to beat Roscommon in the Connacht final.
They’ve a lot of football played in 2018 with the two biggest hurdles still standing on the course. There is every chance that they are struggling to get themselves in a position to negotiate them.
This weekend we will see if they were tapering off and preparing for a big push or if they have in fact lost their edge.
Dublin had the luxury of viewing their dead rubber match with Roscommon as the chance to put invaluable game time into the likes of Cormac Costello, Paul Flynn and Eoghan O’Gara and to keep them sharp for the bigger tests to come.
Heavy mileage players this season like Brian Fenton, Ciaran Kilkenny, Brian Howard and Niall Scully were given an extra week of recovery. The competition for places looked after the rest.
Dublin have been professional in how they handled everything thrown at them. Any possible questions about their appetite for battle were well and truly answered by their win over Tyrone in Omagh which, in terms of intensity and ferocity, was a brilliant game to watch and will have stood to them no end.
Damien Comer has caused Dublin no shortage of problems when the teams have met this year – but when Dublin curbed the supply into him the threat disappeared and that will be the approach again.
Dublin will look to hit Galway in an early blitz, score early goals to mess with any plans Galway have for sitting back and entice them out to play.
Galway need to get at Dublin and score goals – especially in the second half. But that requires committing men forward and we have to wait and see if Galway are happy to do this.
Dublin’s know-how will be enough to keep them four or five points clear of danger.
Malachy O’Rourke will have been busy this week trying to keep the feet of the Monaghan players on the ground.
It is a landmark achievement for them reaching the last four for the first time in 30 years and it’s something they thoroughly deserved. But they still have a game to play.
Ryan McAnespie has really stood up and taken on big responsibility to share the burden with Conor McManus.
At the back Rory Beggan has been getting better and better and is a massive asset to them as he is every bit as influential to the team as Stephen Cluxton is to Dublin.
It’s probably a help in one sense that it’s their old foes Tyrone they are playing – that will sharpen their focus.
I think it’s a hindrance too though, as a I was hugely impressed by Mickey Harte’s men in Omagh and they went and did it again by showing real character to come from behind away to Donegal to grab the win.
Their system, their structure, their reliance on team work rather than individual brilliance and an experienced manager all put them in a strong position.
They will have been desperate to get back to the semi-finals after the humiliation of losing to Dublin so badly there last year.
I think that will drive them and I believe it will be a Dublin v Tyrone football final come Sunday night.