Tyrone can push the All-Ireland champions Dublin all the way
David Jennings is expecting a close battle at Croke Park
Dublin v Tyrone
Croke Park, 3.30pm Sunday
Don’t buy into the belief that Dublin will destroy Tyrone in the All-Ireland final - the underdogs are worthy of handicap support at least.
The prices suggest that bookmakers can only remember last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, when an early Con O’Callaghan goal set the tone for a 2-17 to 0-11 success for Dublin.
But they may be overlooking the battle of Omagh in late July when Ronan O’Neill missed an easy free in the first minute of injury-time which would have put just a point between the sides. The Dubs won by three, but Tyrone went toe-to-toe with the champs and will be all the better for it.
Dublin have the greatest panel I have even seen - but that is panel rather than team. It is Dublin’s strength in depth that makes them so good. They have around 25 players who can be interchanged seamlessly. Apart from Stephen Cluxton, Ciaran Kilkenny, Brian Fenton and Dean Rock for frees, the Dubs could probably live without any of the others if they had to.
But Dublin do All-Ireland finals differently than the games which got them there. Their four most recent final victories have been by a point in 2013 (v Mayo, 2-12 to 1-14), three points in 2015 (v Kerry, 0-12 to 0-9), one point in 2016 (v Mayo, 1-15 to 1-14 in a replay) and one point in 2017 (v Mayo, 1-17 to 1-16). All-Ireland finals are about winning, not how you win them. That seems to be the mantra Jim Gavin has drilled into his troops since he took over.
We have seen some awesome Dublin displays under Gavin but none of them have arrived in an All-Ireland final. Expect Kilkenny to sacrifice his shooting and forward forays by dropping deep to secure possession. Expect Eoin Murchan to follow Niall Sludden everywhere he goes. Expect no shot to be executed unless it is within 35 metres of goal. Expect Dublin to hold on to possession in the final five minutes if they are leading by a few points. Do not expect flamboyancy. Dublin don’t do that in All-Ireland finals.
In the final scenes of the 2017 final, David Clarke needed to find a man with his final kick-out and Dublin proceeded to cynically foul a host of Mayo players making runs for the vital kick. It went out of play. Dublin would not do that in any other match other than an All-Ireland final.
Dublin’s shooting stats are interesting. In their seven championship matches, no Dublin footballer has taken a shot from play from the opposition 45-metre line or outside of it. The reigning champions have already scored 15-152 in reaching Sunday’s All-Ireland final, 15-117 of that from play. That’s an average score of 2-17 per match from play but none of those scores have come from distance.
That could suit Tyrone. Given the blanket which will guard the scoring zone, Dublin will not get the same space Galway gave them in the semi-final to get away their shots.
You can back Dublin not to reach 22 points at 8-11 with Paddy Power. That is terrific value when you consider that the Dubs have never passed that total in any of their five All-Ireland final victories since 2011. They have scored 15, 18, 12, 18 and 20 with an average points tally of 16.6.
That stat in itself makes the 8-11 about Dublin scoring 21 or fewer points look like value but add to that the fact that Tyrone will be more defensive-minded than both Mayo and Kerry who they played in those finals and it starts to look great value.
Even when Dublin destroyed Tyrone in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, they scored only 2-17 (23 points). That was with Mickey Harte’s men throwing in the towel.
It is hard to resist backing Dublin to win by one, two or three points at 4-1.
A safer strategy is to go down the handicap route with Tyrone. There is some 4-5 available with a seven-point start and 9-5 with a four-point start. Both could be worth taking.
The big mistake Mickey Harte made in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final was defending zonally rather than going man on man. That will not happen this time. They will man-mark with Colm Cavanagh the only one with a licence to defend space. They did that against Monaghan and should do it again.
The feature of Tyrone’s voyage to the All-Ireland final has been their strong finishes. They looked in deep trouble against Donegal in the last round of the Super 8s round-robin series but tore apart their Ulster rivals in the final quarter, turning a three-point loss heading into the final 15 minutes into a seven-point success.
They also swooped late, thanks to a Niall Sludden goal, to beat Monaghan in the All-Ireland semi-final and it has been a recurring theme of Mickey Harte’s side in 2018.
Combine that with Harte not wanting lightning to strike twice and at pains not to concede an early goal and it seems logical to think that the second half will be the higher-scoring half.
The Dublin bench are likely to contribute to the score too. Dubs will probably sneak it, but perhaps by no more than three points.
Dublin to win by one, two or three points
1pt 4-1 Coral, Ladbrokes
4pts 4-5 Hills
2pts 9-5 Coral, Ladbrokes
Second half to be higher-scoring half
4pts 4-6 Betfair, Betway, Paddy Power
Dublin under 21.5 points
3pts 8-11 Paddy Power
Already advised (May 11)
Tyrone to win All-Ireland
1pt each-way 12-1 BoyleSports
Opening minutes could be cagey
Con O'Callaghan's early goal, which spoiled last year's All-Ireland semi-final between the 2018 finalists, will be fresh in Mickey Harte's mind so expect Tyrone to be negative in the opening ten minutes to make sure lightning does not strike twice.
Paddy Power are offering 9-1 about no score in the opening five minutes and that looks too big.
Tyrone exploded from the traps against Monaghan in the semi-final, scoring three early points to put them in the driving seat, but they cannot afford to be so positive against Dublin for fear of conceding another early goal.
Five minutes is not long in an All-Ireland final, especially the first five minutes. It is an anxious period with nerves everywhere.
The only score in the first five minutes of last year's final was Con O'Callaghan's classy goal. Mayo did not score until the sixth minute.
Frank Burns is a versatile performer who has been deployed in both defence and attack by Harte in 2018. He is clinical when he gets into the scoring zone, so back the number six to get a point or more at evens.
O'Callaghan has been mediocre by his own high standards this year, although he did get a crucial first-half goal in the Dubs' semi-final success over Galway, and he looks value to not to score three points.
No scores in the first five minutes of the match
1pt 9-1 Paddy Power
Frank Burns under 0.5pts
2pts Evs BoyleSports
Con O’Callaghan under 2.5 points
2pts 5-6 BoyleSports
Read Racing Post Sport every day for no-nonsense previews and expert sports betting tips
Follow us on Twitter @racingpostsport
Like us on Facebook RacingPostSport