Late points from Dean Rock and Jack McCaffrey swept unconvincing Dublin to an agonisingly narrow win over gutsy Tyrone in an intoxicating National League Division One final in Croke Park on Sunday, writes Seamus Donnelly.
In what was a pulsating match played for long spells at championship intensity the Blues just got the better of the Red Hands by a solitary point.
The game, however, will have acted as the perfect preparation for Tyrone ahead of their championship encounter with Donegal that’s now looming ominously on the horizon.
Mickey Harte and his selection team will take heart from the performance of some younger players playing in front of a partisan Dublin crowd at championship pace for the first time.
The performances of Niall Morgan and Conor McAliskey who contributed eight points between them will gave Tyrone fans plenty to look forward to as the summer approaches.
Tyrone had led for long spells of the second half having trailed for most of the opening period before three late Dublin point turned a one point Tyrone advantage into a two point deficit.
The management will also be conscious that an injury to Aidan Cassidy during this period meant they were effectively playing with 14 as Dublin fired over three quick points to seal the win
Tyrone fans, too, will have been disappointed with the performance of Sligo whistler Marty Duffy who appeared to favour the home side with many of his decisions and allowed only one minute of added time at the end of the contest.
There were a couple of late changes on both teams before throw in, most significant the inclusion of Conor McAliskey at the expense of Stephen O’Neill who suffered an ankle injury in the warm-up, while Dublin added Jason Whelan to their named side in place of Paul Flynn.
The Metropolitans got themselves off to a fast start with Bernard Brogan converting an opening minute free from 14 metres.
It was an evenly balanced opening ten minutes though, Sean Cavanagh levelling the scores on 5 minutes with a good effort from in front of the posts of his left foot.
Dublin’s forwards were causing the Tyrone defence problems when given a decent supply of possession and they rattled off three quick points in a four minute spell with Brogan again on target from the placed ball.
Diarmuid Connolly then got his name on the scoreboard the St Vincent’s man kicking two excellent efforts of his left foot when under pressure from the Tyrone defence.
Tyrone responded brilliantly and rattled off three points of their own, the first coming from late replacement McAliskey, who took a point when a goal looked like it might be on.
Mattie Donnelly registered with a super effort from the left wing, before goalkeeper Morgan came up to kick an excellent free from 45 metres
However, just as Tyrone again got level, the Dubs grabbed three more points, Bryan Cullen and full forward Paddy Andrews pointed from play either side of yet another Bernard Brogan free kick.
Tyrone responded immediately with Sean Cavanagh and Conor McAliskey linking up brilliantly to allow the Moy man to score, before Martin Penrose fired over a free from close range narrowing the gap once again to one.
Brogan and Cavanagh exchanged frees before Niall Morgan was called into action to deny the Blues a goal, the Edendork shot stopper denying Jason Whelan before Paul Mannion fired the rebound over the bar as he met it on the ground.
Conor Gormley and Mannion traded scores once again as halftime approached before two late Tyrone points, firstly through a sublime Morgan free and then via a stunning McAliskey effort from play left things finely balanced.
Morgan began the second half were he had left off, while Paul Mannion continued his fine form with another effort this time from the placed ball
As the half progressed the intensity rose considerably, Cassidy in particular giving Tyrone a better share of things around the midfield area.
Tyrone’s fullback line had also tightened up with PJ Quinn, Cathal McCarron and Conor Clarke all giving improved second half showings.
The sides were level on no fewer than six occasions over the half as neither team could establish anymore than a one point advantage
Conor McAliskey had a brilliant individual point cancelled by Mannion, with a brilliant Morgan 45 before Bernard Brogan scored his fifth - this time from a free. A stunning Tyrone move involving Sean Cavanagh, Martin Penrose and Mark Donnelly put the Carrickmore man in on goal only for him to fist over the crossbar for a point.
Tyrone averted a near disaster minutes later thanks to some outstanding Cathal McCarron defending as he snuffed out a Bernard Brogan goal chance with a fantastic diving block
Philly McMahon again levelled the scores before Niall Morgan kicked a monstrous point from 55 metres as Tyrone began to look like champions.
With seven minutes remaining Stephen Cluxton made no mistake with a 45, only for Penrose to fire Tyrone into the lead again, this time following a foul on Kyle Coney.
Dublin substitute Dean Rock took responsibility onto his young shoulders to kick a fine score before with just a minute remaining he repeated the dose, scoring again.
With Aidan Cassidy incapacitated and needing attention, the game went on and Jack McCaffrey found himself in space 30 metres out to give Dublin a two point lead in injury time.
Sean Cavanagh had time to slot over a reply but that was to be as close as Tyrone got, Marty Duffy bringing proceedings to a close not long after Stephen Cluxton’s kick-out, Tyrone supporters left to wonder how there was but one added minute as they hoped in vain for an extra-time finish.