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Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 24 February 2021

Big exam coming for Sky Blues, the Connolly factor, Red Hands firing - Dublin-Tyrone talking points

Both counties are chasing an All-Ireland final spot on 17 September.

WITH THE DUST settling on the Kerry-Mayo replay, the scene is set for act II of All-Ireland senior football semi-final weekend, as Leinster champions Dublin prepare for battle with Ulster kingpins Tyrone.

Both teams have shown impressive form in their cruises to the last four of the All-Ireland series – but something has to give in what promises to be a hard-hitting encounter.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The counties last met in senior championship football back in 2011, when Dublin claimed a 0-22 to 0-15 win.

Dublin star Diarmuid Connolly scored seven points from play in that game and he’s available for selection again after serving a 12-week ban.

Here are some more big talking points ahead of a titanic collision and, after all, we did tell you this one was coming! 

1. Dublin to finally receive a stern examination

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It’s been another procession for Dublin so far this summer.

The Sky Blues cruised through the Leinster championship, with a seventh successive provincial win setting a new record.

They were frustrated for spells against Carlow and Kildare but ultimately, none of their opponents were able to lay a glove on them.

Monaghan were expected to present a stiff test at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage but Dublin battered them into submission to banish any doubts that may have emerged from the Leinster final.

But now it’s Tyrone and this is an infinite step up in class for Jim Gavin’s men.

The Red Hands have shown ominous form of their own en route to the last four, claiming a comfortable Ulster title win before hammering old rivals Armagh.

2. Dublin’s strength in depth

flynn Dublin duo Paul Flynn (left) and Michael Darragh MacAuley returned against Monaghan.

Jim Gavin has a galaxy of stars to call upon and he’s not afraid to dip into his squad either.

During the Leinster championship, Gavin used 27 different players at various stages, and he welcomed back established and experienced duo Paul Flynn and Michael Darragh MacAuley back from injury for the All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Monaghan.

That’s 29 players who have tasted game time in championship 2017 and if Cormac Costello gets a run against Tyrone, that number will rise to 30.

Many of Dublin’s subs would walk onto the vast majority of other inter-county sides and if the Sky Blues fielded a second team in the championship, they’d beat most opponents too.

The conveyor belt shows no signs of slowing down any time soon and Gavin has successfully managed to infuse fresh talent into his side this summer, without any obvious signs that momentum is stalling.

With players competing for places in the match-day squad, never mind the starting 15, it’s a dream scenario for Gavin.

3. The Diarmuid Connolly factor

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s been a long few months for Diarmuid Connolly since he was suspended for an altercation with linesman Ciaran Branagan during Dublin’s first outing in the Leinster championship against Carlow.

But now arguably the best pound-for-pound footballer in the country is back for Dublin’s final push as they chase a third successive All-Ireland crown.

There must be a huge temptation to chuck Connolly straight back in for a start but Gavin might also opt to see how the game develops before choosing his time wisely.

If Connolly does start, he’s sure to come in for some special treatment from Tyrone but Gavin will feel confident that the player’s enforced lay-off will have left him hungry for action and eager to steer clear of trouble.

Connolly’s a special talent and has the type of natural footballing ability that can unlock any defence. But he’s been involved in flashpoint incidents far too often and Gavin will hope that his St Vincent’s superstar can keep a lid on his emotions.

4. New attacking impetus bodes well for Tyrone

Ronan O'Neill celebrates scoring his first goal Ronan O'Neill came off the bench to score two Ulster final goals against Down. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The words ‘defensive’ and ‘Tyrone’ have gone hand in hand for many years now.

But Mickey Harte’s men have been racking up some big totals this summer, an indication that their game has evolved.

Tyrone bagged 0-22 against Derry, a whopping 1-21 to see off Donegal and 2-17 in the Ulster final victory over Down.

When the Red Hands hit Croke Park, they didn’t let up either, hitting Armagh for 3-17 en route to another big win.

That’s 6-77 from four outings, and against arguably better opposition than Dublin have had to face to date.

While Dublin may have huge strength in depth, Tyrone are no slouches in this department either.

David Mulgrew celebrates scoring his sides third goal David Mulgrew grabbed two goals against Armagh. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ronan O’Neill came off the bench to score two Ulster final goals and David Mulgrew matched that feat when he appeared in the Armagh win last time out.

Corner back Pádraig Hampsey is enjoying a marvellous debut season in defence and Tyrone are well set overall to pitch up at Croke Park with a massive challenge to Dublin’s dominance.

5. Tyrone’s leaders showing the way

Tiernan McCann surrounded by Monaghan players Tyrone's Tiernan McCann has come a long way in two years. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Tyrone appear to be a team on a mission this summer.

Perhaps that’s because it’s inspirational captain Sean Cavanagh’s last season – or maybe boss Mickey Harte has a bee in his bonnet after he had a contract extension request turned down last year.

But Tyrone are now emerging as a team laced with the kind of leaders who drove them to All-Ireland wins in 2003, 2005 and 2008.

Tiernan McCann has come a long way since that infamous episode when he got Monaghan’s Darren Hughes sent off in 2015.

Colm Cavanagh’s enjoying a superb season at midfield, Peter Harte’s as good as ever, while Mattie Donnelly and Mark Bradley are other notable performers.

The omens are good for Tyrone as they prepare for the Dublin juggernaut and many believe that 5-2 represents good value ahead of this seismic encounter.

6. Bragging rights on offer for Cluxton and Cavanagh

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton, whose 89 senior championship appearances represent an all-time record, has Tyrone counterpart Sean Cavanagh hot on his heels.

While Cluxton lines out for his 90th game in this All-Ireland semi-final, Cavanagh will move on to 89.

Should Tyrone win, Cavanagh can match Cluxton’s record in the 17 September decider.

But if Dublin prevail, Cluxton’s all-time standing is safe, and perhaps for a long time to come, as he’ll make his 91st championship appearance on All-Ireland final day.

If Tyrone bow out at the semi-final stage, Cavanagh will pull the curtain down on a glorious career that will have yielded three All-Ireland medals – and 89 championship matches.

But Cavanagh came back for one more year with a belief that he can claim a fourth Celtic cross – and further cement his illustrious standing in the record books.

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