Despite the fact there was just a point in it at the break, Dublin leading 1-6 to 0-8, still just a goal in it 15 minutes into the second period (1-10 to 0-10), this was a dull, lifeless affair.
Afterwards, the thousands of Dub football supporters who made their way onto The Hill a little earlier than normal must have been left wondering what the hell all the fuss is about over hurling – this was not a good advert for the game, not a good advert for the Leinster championship, but most of all, not a good advert for Antrim hurling, a fact acknowledged afterwards by crestfallen joint manager Terence McNaughton.
“Very, very, disappointed,” he said. “We got off to a very bad start and only hurled for 15 minutes in the first-half. We seemed very nervous, took a long time to settle. We missed a goal, had a few chances – if we could have taken those we could have had a bit of momentum going. In the second quarter we played some lovely hurling, almost levelled it up, but they dominated the second half – after about ten minutes we were chasing the game.”
With only 24 minutes gone Antrim were already in trouble, trailing 1-6 to 0-2 though playing with the aid of a strong wind. They weren’t helping their own cause, however; eight wides they hit in that period, against just one for the Dubs, and this, allied to two missed opportunities from a penalty and a 20m free, saw the northerners dig themselves into the hole in which, ultimately, they would be buried.
Those two misses/saves were a major factor in that opening quarter as was the Dublin goal by the outstanding David ‘Dotsie’ O’Callaghan in the 13th minute after a fine catch and solo. Credit to Antrim, however, as they rallied, and six unanswered points before the break gave them reason to hope for the second-half.
“We were worried,” he admitted, “But we tried not to show that to the players. We had worked on a lot of different scenarios beforehand at team meetings, what things might be like at half-time – could be losing having played with the wind, could have had a player sent off, that sort of thing. It was nice to be able to refer back to that; we were a point up but we didn’t deserve to be. We just asked fellas to calm down.”
Though Antrim were first to score after the break and tied the game in the 36th minute, they offered very little thereafter by way of challenge. Dublin took their time about opening daylight, but, point by point – freetaker Alan McCrabbe doing most of the scoring but O’Callaghan coming in with two points from limited opportunities in the corner, the experienced Flynn with another – they built their lead. Dublin could even afford the luxury of 14 wides in this half alone.
Dublin will need to improve if they want to get past Wexford and reach their first Leinster final since the early 90’s. Without doubt the scope is there for them to do so. Their defence yesterday was excellent while up front, Shane Durkan worked himself to a standstill on the wing, Liam Rushe is a find, Alan McCrabbe continues to impress – from placed balls especially – while O’Callaghan and David Tracey form a potentially deadly duo inside.
As for Antrim – where do they go from here? Comfortable winners of the Christy Ring cup in 2006, when last they were in that competition, on this performance they are still a considerable distance off the pace at the top level, are some years yet from offering a threat even in Leinster.
Scorers for Dublin: A McCrabbe 1-9 (0-7f, 0-1 65); D O’Callaghan 1-3; D Tracey 0-2; S Durkan, K Flynn, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Antrim: K Stewart 0-5 (4f); N McManus, S Delargy, CJ McGourty, B Herron, J Scullion, K McKeegan, M Herron, 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: G Maguire; N Corcoran, T Brady, O Gough; S Hiney (c), J Boland, M Carton; J McCaffrey, D Curtin; S Durkan, L Ryan, L Rushe; D O’Callaghan, A McCrabbe (3rd midfielder), D Tracey.
Subs: K Flynn for Ryan, 35; S Lambert for Curtin, 46; P Carton for Durkan, 54; D Sweeney for McCrabbe, 67. Blood sub: K Flynn (Rushe 32/34).
ANTRIM: R McGarry; K McGourty, N McGarry (capt), A Graffin; J Campbell, C Donnelly, N McAuley; P Richmond, K McKeegan; S Delargy, N McManus, M Herron; CJ McGourty, K Stewart, PJ O’Connell.
Subs: B Herron for O’Connell, 32; J Scullion for M Herron, 50; P McGill for Delargy, 61.
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).