2018 All-Ireland Football Final: The Monday Hangover

Punch Drunk Red Hands Ale-Ing, as Kilkenny and McCaffrey’s Have Final Laugh!!!

Some of you may have noticed that Ball-X was a bit quiet yesterday (he says in the hope that some people were engaged enough to even pay heed!).

Yes, one of the many pitfalls of the one man journalistic revolution is the fact that you can’t just go on a lock of pints in Dublin at the weekend and expect to efficiently run a 24/7 sports news website.

I probably took the decision of holding off for today’s review piece whilst drinking my second tin of Orchard Thieves in a South Dublin hotel at half eleven yesterday morning. And believe me, there’s plenty more ‘unprofessionalism’ to come, ladies and gents. So stay tuned as I burn this baby to the ground!

On the topic of depressive mornings…

As one Tyrone supporter put it to me in a Dublin bar last night, “It’s the hope that kills you!”

Unfancied and, perhaps, a little underestimated in the run-up to yesterday’s finale, Mickey Harte’s men enjoyed a champagne opening quarter to the game before the fizz went to goalkeeper Niall Morgan’s head a bit too quickly. The Edendork man’s staggers, again, proving all too costly for Tyrone.

In the space of four minutes, best set plans in sobriety gave way to befuddled carnage – served, if not on, then certainly by the Rocks, in part.

The 1-03 accumulated – Jack McCaffrey’s point, Paul Mannion’s penalty and two quickfire efforts from the right foot of Dean Rock – proved the decisive period of the game and torpedoed what had been a fantastic start for the Ulster side.

True, Tyrone should have been more than the four points they were to the good at that stage. Kieran McGeary and Colm Cavanagh were wayward with efforts before Cathal McShane tugged one left – trying the audacious when continuing to enjoy that most coveted of luxuries, posession, may have been advisable. Tyrone would end the game shooting sixteen wides to Dublin’s six.

But the assured early confidence that had been a feature of Tyrone’s play in the opening seventeen minutes, dissipated quickly into the blue hue that seemed, not only to envelop the Red Hand supporters in the Croke Park stands, but their clansmen on the battlefield.

The Dubs ran amok, outscoring their opponents 2-06 to a single point in the period between McCaffrey’s 18th minute curled effort to the half-time whistle. Crucial too, Con O’Callaghan and Ciarán Kilkenny’s more significant involvement during the second quarter. Both men combined in the lead up to Paul Mannion winning the Dublin penallty, and whilst the latter began to free himself slowly but surely from Tiernan McCann’s early shackles, the former’s exquisite deftness in bamboozling the Tyrone defence, before laying on for Niall Scully to palm to the net in the 28th minute was, arguably, the game’s most mesmeric moment.

When Conor Lane’s whistle long blasted for half-time the game as a contest had ran it’s course. The seven point margin built by a side en route to lengthening an unbeaten championship run spanning twenty eight matches, four years and two days afforded them to dictate the tempo of the second half.

Pass by pass flickered in front of the eyes and above the heads of the the doomed Tyrone side, and despite a brief interlude, when Mickey Harte eventually took Ball-X’s Saturday morning nugget on board and moved Colm Cavanagh to the edge of Stephen Cluxton’s square, Dublin more or less ambled nonchalantly to victory.

Contemplation for a hungover Monday?

Mickey Harte, Tyrone Manager
Mickey Harte will be back in 2019, hoping to find a way of toppling Jim Gavin and Dublin. Credit: Extra.ie

Well, Mickey Harte can, indeed, take heart in being 2018’s ‘best of the rest’.  A reality that he and every other manager are forced to face up to is the fact that, for now, that’s just as good as it’s gonna get!

Tyrone have also constructed a platform this year of which to mount a coup to Dublin’s dictatorship. New stars have been born in the likes of Michael McKernan, Cathal McShane, Kieran McGeary and Harry Loughran, whilst the Brennans and Mark Bradley continue to improve. Ronan McNamee and Padraig Hampsey are forging reputations as being up there with the game’s meanest defenders and household names such as Donnelly, McCann and Harte are still sub-30. The wise old head in Colm Cavanagh at thirty-one, probably had his best year in the white and red.

But whilst there is plenty to be positive about, nagging doubts will remain as to Harte’s ability to locate or mould a consistent marquee forward – assets that imprinted on his title winning sides of the noughties in the form of Canavan, O’Neill, Sean Cavanagh and Muggsy.

And so too, the realisation, that Dublin proceeded to Sam Maguire this year without really being truly tested.

The impending fear that Jim Gavin’s team may have a couple of more gears in them is enough to push most rivalling managers to the drink.

There very well may be a lot more hangovers to come.

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