In truth, Dublin have known since the fourth round demolition of Kildare that, barring a disaster, they were through to the knockout stages.
That knowledge might have bred complacency and defeat to northern opposition on consecutive weekends at Croke Park would only have stood up the theory.
But after a shaky opening 20 minutes or so there was only one team in this game and, in the end, a double scores victory hardly flattered Dublin.
The introduction of Michael Darragh Macauley early on to a midfield under pressure was vital. All action Macauley lent drive and dynamism to the effort, particularly in the second-half when Dublin outscored Down by a whopping 1-10 to 0-2.
Another Kevin McManamon goal was the game’s decisive moment. The 50th minute strike turned a mere two point lead into five and, from there, the Dubs hit cruise control for a smooth journey home.
The elements threatened to make a nonsense of the game. Just 10,825 braved the strong wind and spring chill which, down on the field of play, played havoc with the teams shooting into the Hill 16 End.
That was Dublin in the first-half who couldn’t get to grips with it, particularly free-taker Diarmuid Connolly, and they trailed by 0-7 to 0-5 at half-time.
But it was a different story after the break as they took full advantage, exciting newcomer Paul Mannion delivering four of his five point haul in the second period.
They are now through to the April 14 semi-finals, regardless of what happens against Donegal in their remaining group game.
“It’s a game by game process in the National League,” said Dubs boss Gavin. “If we got into the National League semi-finals, the latter stages of the programme, that was all well and good. There’s a round of Dublin senior football championship down for the semi-final week. That’s going to go ahead. We’re not changing our plans. We’re in bonus territory.
“Likewise, we have Donegal next and nothing changes, not one little bit. We’re on a training programme for the first weekend in June and that’s not going to change.”
There was no Rory O’Carroll, Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn or Ciaran Kilkenny due to injuries, but Johnny Cooper and Mannion, in particular, took their opportunities. “Paul Mannion had a fantastic club championship with Kilmacud Crokes,” added Gavin. “That is the form he had then and it’s good to see him bringing it out with a Dublin jersey on his back.”
Macauley was excellent after his introduction. He was heavily involved in the 50th minute move that led to McManamon eventually shooting to the net past Brendan McVeigh.
“It’s a team game,” said Gavin when asked about Macauley’s cameo. “You have 26 players and that is the team as far as I’m concerned. Denis (Bastick) took a big knock inside the first few minutes and was labouring around. We gave him a chance but he struggled so the logical choice was the next man up.”
Down looked lively early on. They moved two clear with points from Mark Poland and full-back Benny McArdle. A wonderful over the shoulder effort from Kevin McKernan moved them 0-5 to 0-1 up after 11 minutes.
“Down played very well in the first-half and got some fantastic scores from long range,” said Gavin. “We knew that they had very good forwards and that if we gave them space and quality ball, they would hurt us.
“I thought we showed good patience in the first-half and it was a very strong breeze. We created lots of opportunities. I think we took less than 50 per cent of those opportunities and missed a lot of frees.
“We had a chat at half-time and in the second-half we came out a bit stronger and kept creating opportunities and our returns were up over 70 per cent. That’s a positive.”
Down manager James McCartan was so furious with the team’s fifth loss in six games that he ignored the post match press conference.
Scorers for Dublin: P Mannion 0-5 (3f), D Connolly 0-4 (3f), K McManamon 1-0, P Andrews 0-2 (1f), B Cullen, C O’Sullivan, N Devereux, S Cluxton (0-1, 45).
Scorers for Down: D O’Hare 0-3 (2f), M Poland 0-2 (1f), B McArdle, K McKernan, P McComiskey, D Savage (1f) 0-1.
Subs for Dublin: MD Macauley for Bastick 23, S Carthy for Dias 47, C Guckian for Daly 52, P Ryan for Connolly 60, D Nelson for McCaffrey 66.
Subs for Down: C Harrison for McConville 31, D McKibbon for D Turley 50, K King for Rooney 53, D Savage for Poland 56, R Kelly for O’Hare 60.