Lonesharkoy previews the All Ireland Football final and he thinks Dublin will be much too strong for Tyrone.
Before we delve into the subsidiary markets in a bid to find value this week, we’ll start with a macro view of where these two teams stand. While Dublin have been devastating over the past four seasons of championship football, their record in All Ireland finals is far more ordinary – they’re consistently getting the job done, but usually by a solitary point.
However this column’s concern, from the perspective of the general health of gaelic football, is that there was one, very simple reason why Kerry and Mayo were able to stay with Dublin in those games – each of those teams had a generous helping of top quality footballers, players that would walk onto an “All Ireland XV”, were such a thing to exist. Park the tactics, they were elite teams.
Simply put, Tyrone don’t have that same level of quality. Colm Cavanagh is a superb box to box midfielder, but does he fulfil that role better than Bryan Fenton, or James McCarthy? Not quite. Niall Sludden is on course to win an All Star and will be central to Tyrone’s chances on Sunday, but nobody is going to suggest that he’s a better centre forward than Shane Walsh, Michael Murphy or Ciarán Kilkenny. Peter Harte, Niall Morgan, Mattie Donnelly, these are all excellent footballers too – but not one of them is quite at the level where you’d argue that they are the best player in their position in the country. Tiernan McCann was at that pitch in 2017, but he’s been putting in 7/10 and 8/10 performances this year, as opposed to 9’s and 10’s.
Ironically, if there is a Tyrone player who fulfils a specialist role as effectively if not more so than any similar player, it’s Cathal McCarron – who will miss out due to injury.
Compare that to the Mayo team of last year, where Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan and Aidan O’Shea were all peerless in their own roles, or indeed the Kerry side of Colm Cooper, Marc Ó’Sé, and James O’Donoghue in the earlier part of this decade. Pick an All-Ireland team in any of the relevant years, and every one of those players get jerseys numbered 15 or lower.
There are those who believe that Tyrone will be competitive on Sunday, but it’s worrying that much of the “optimism” in pundits taking that opinion is rooted in vague, emotional ideas rather than more quantifiable data and performance. They refer to the possibility of Tyrone pulling a tactical rabbit from a hat, or the idea that they will learn so much from their semi-final defeat of 2017 and their Super 8 loss in Omagh, or the real fall back, that siege mentality that helps Ulster teams do well against the odds, something that Tyrone wield most proficiently of all.
None of that will compensate for the fact that Tyrone will have to use their best players to neutralise Dublin’s most potent weapons (Cavanagh may try and contain Fenton, Peter Harte could be matched up with Jack McCaffrey, Mattie Donnelly may be asked to shadow Ciarán Kilkenny) and in the case of Tyrone, unlike Mayo last year and Kerry a few years before, what’s left after all that is decent, but not All-Ireland standard.
Simply put, the second-best team in Ireland this year was Monaghan, and Tyrone got the rub of the green in their semi-final win over Malachy O’Rourke’s side - no yellow cards for persistent fouling, a lucky break of the ball for Niall Sludden’s goal, and a few other key moments. Monaghan would have had a faint, but real, chance of dethroning Dublin. Right now, it’s hard to visualise how Tyrone might win tomorrow, and when we can’t imagine it, how real a prospect is it?
Our concern from a betting point of view is that Dublin could do as they did in Omagh – keep the opposition at arm’s length, but never cut loose – so while we are going to tentatively advise a bet on Dublin minus the handicap, we’re going to attack another couple of value selections as well.
First is Eoin Murchan, 8/1 to be nominated for the man of the match award. Murchan isn’t an eye-catching footballer at the best of times, but he has quietly become the most reliable man marker on this team. Cian O’Sullivan’s pace is not what it once was, and while Philly McMahon can be relentless, if he’s pinged for an early foul he sometimes struggles to change his game. Murchan on the other hand has the pace, the discipline, the football brain – he is the whole package – and he will almost certainly pick up Niall Sludden in this game, in a bid to neutralise Tyrone’s in-from playmaker. If Murchan does this goes well, he’ll have played a huge part in Dublin’s success. Put it another way – Sludden is a tough opponent, but Murchan has a chance to shine. If Michael Fitzsimons has a good day on Lee Brennan, he still might not get selected here. Sludden is in a key role, and even allowing for some of the trite review work we can see on the Sunday Game at times, those analysing the game will pick up on this.
Finally, Dublin’s Michael Darragh Macauley is 28/1 to score the last goal with Ladbrokes/Coral. It would be a huge surprise if he doesn’t come on the field with at least 15 minutes to play, and if he does, his athleticism will cause problems – that’s exactly why he fulfils the role so effectively. If Tyrone have to push out and chase the game, there will be gaps, and while visualising Tyrone winning the game is difficult, visualising the Ballyboden St. Enda’s man galloping through tiring defenders and suddenly finding himself clean through on goal is easy to picture. At 28/1, it’s worth a nibble.
Dublin -6pts to beat Tyrone at 11/10 with Betfair
Eoim Murchan to be nominated for the Sunday Game Man of the Match award, 8/1, Paddy Power Betfair
Michael Darragh Macauley to score the last goal of the game, 28/1, Ladbrokes/Coral