Michael McKernan says man to man approach the best way to catch Dublin
By John Harrington
The 2019 season has just begun but already the narrative is being driven by Dublin’s ‘Drive for Five’.
Their fourth All-Ireland in a row last year was more convincingly won that the three that preceded it so the question on everybody’s lips is can any team out there get close to Jim Gavin’s all-conquering team in 2019?
Tyrone arguably caused them more trouble than any other team in the Championship last year so perhaps some clues of how best to knock Dublin out of their stride can be gleaned from the two matches the teams contested in the All-Ireland quarter-finals and Final itself.
They outscored Dublin by 0-6 to 0-3 in the final 15 minutes of the quarter-final in Healy Park and by 0-5 to 0-1 in the first 15 minutes of the All-Ireland Final.
According to Tyrone defender Michael McKernan, the reason they were able to make Dublin look mortal in those phases of both games was because they pushed up high and went man to man on them.
“You can't sit back on them because every one of them can play football,” said McCann today at the launch of Electric Ireland’s Sigerson, Fitzgibbon and Higher Education Championships.
“You can't sit back because they'll just pick through you. They'll hold it until you come out.
“So it's probably best to push up and go man to man for as long as you can. Aye, in the first 15 minutes the likes of Mark Bradley was very good, Connor McAliskey, all them boys inside. We were getting ball in fast.
“I suppose the main thing about that there is keeping it for 70 minutes. That's very hard to do. Something we can probably improve on is our decision-making in matches.
“Maybe in the Final we went a few points in the lead and maybe started taking stupid shots. Whereas if we kept chipping away at the points it might have been a different outcome.
“But you can't take anything away from them, they're unbelievable. And they probably are the best team to play Gaelic Football. Fair play to them for what they've done.”
Tyrone as a team might have a way to go until they match Dublin, but McCann is very clearly made of the right stuff after a debut championship campaign that saw him shortlisted for the PwC GAA-GPA Young Player of the Year award.
Not many rookies get to play in an All-Ireland Final in their debut season, and he admits the experience was somewhat surreal.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “I hadn't played in Croke Park until this year. And then my third or fourth time playing in it was an All-Ireland Final. It's kind of surreal looking back on it.
“It was a very good experience because I think maybe only Collie Cavanagh and Cathal McCarron who played in the 2008 Final, no-one else had played in one.
“Even for this year coming it gives us a lot of experience. If we get to that position again we'll know how it feels and how not to be overwhelmed.
“Dublin are very calm, they've been there and done it. They've experienced it.”
McKernan hasn’t played for Tyrone yet this year because he’s currently focused on playing Sigerson Cup football with Ulster University, but from what he’s seen from the sidelines he’s hopeful they have the potential to raise their game to a new level again in 2019.
“It's good. There's a few new boys in. There's Kyle Coney, Darren McCurry and Conan Grugan, they're back in.
“Then there's Liam Rafferty, Ryan Gray, Brian Kennedy - all them boys are in. So it's definitely good because you have that competition pushing the boys that were there on.
“Hopefully it'll be better this year than it was last year.”