Manager Peter Reilly certainly didn’t bow to diplomacy after coming up agonisingly short for the fourth consecutive year in Cavan’s bid for a maiden Cadbury All-Ireland U-21 football title.
Cormac Costello’s 60th minute winner from a free, a score that remarkably put Dublin ahead for the first time, was a most inglorious way for Cavan’s challenge to end.
So there was an obvious emotional context to Reilly’s outburst which, firstly, was trained upon referee Derek O’Mahoney before moving onto central GAA authorities.
Irate Cavan fans in the 7,206 crowd at O’Moore Park agreed with Reilly’s summation that O’Mahoney got it wrong with two big late calls.
The first was to merely caution Conor McHugh for what Cavan believed to be a black card offence, two minutes before McHugh kicked the 56th minute equaliser.
The bigger decision came in the 60th minute when sub Gavin Ivory’s shot hit the post and went wide only for O’Mahoney to haul play back for a Dublin free, indicating he’d earlier applied the advantage rule for a questionable foul on Ivory. Costello’s winner came from the free.
O’Mahoney was engaged by Cavan players and management including boss Reilly as he departed the field and required a Garda escort.
Yet Reilly reserved his most cutting comments for the GAA whom he revealed tossed out a Cavan objection against the game going ahead in Portlaoise where Dublin played their previous two games.
“They actually fought to play the Leinster final here and then they end up playing the All-Ireland semi-final here!” gasped Reilly.
“We put an objection in about it but sure we got a letter back from Croke Park, ‘hard luck boys’. I’ve asked it before, are the big boys going to dominate our games with decisions like this?
“That was an off field decision. Referees can make decisions on given days that go against you. But why was this game in Portlaoise? They played here twice already. It was an unfair advantage.
“It shouldn’t have been here. But does it matter to the GAA? No. Cavan doesn’t matter to them, I would suggest.
“It would be like them coming to play us in Armagh. We played our provincial final in Armagh, we also played our semi-final there. And then we’re brought down through Dublin to play a game in Portlaoise. Why is that?”
Cavan didn’t appear to have much difficulties with the venue for the first two thirds of the game.
They led 0-7 to 0-5 at half-time and twice opened up four-point leads on a star studded Dublin side tipped for tournament success from the outset.
Two separate three-point bursts from Dublin in the final 25 minutes of the game ultimately edged them to victory.
But it was an unconvincing display that yielded 14 wides in total from Dublin and nine in the first-half.
They were missing Ciaran Kilkenny to a high profile cruciate knee ligament injury and Leinster final hero Shane Carthy was another late withdrawal. But even against an in-form Cavan side they were tipped to win more comfortably with Young Footballer of the Year Jack McCaffrey, senior star Costello and players like Eric Lowndes, David Byrne and Paul Mannion in their ranks.
They did at least show impressive character to grind out victory with the game’s last three points in the final seven minutes.
And though Cavan were upset with O’Mahoney’s big decisions, Dublin manager Dessie Farrell insisted they earned their win fairly.
“The advantage rule was played and nothing accrued from it so it was pulled back and the free was awarded, I thought the referee did the right thing,” said Farrell of the winning score.
“Obviously some Cavan people disagree with that but sure that’s the nature of it.”
As for McHugh’s yellow card, which Cavan believe should have been a black, shortly before McHugh hit the equaliser, Farrell shrugged.
“It’s one of those grey ones, isn’t it? Whether it’s actually a tackle on the ball or is it more cynical? I’m sure Conor will argue that he was trying to play the ball.
“I know he was saying his jersey was being pulled at the time as he was trying to tackle. Look, they’re the narrow margins and some of them go with you, some go against you.”
Scorers for Dublin: C Costello (0-4, 2fs), C McHugh (0-3), N Scully, P Mannion, E O Conghaile and G Ivory (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cavan: J Dillion (0-3), E Flanagan (two frees) and T Hayes (0-2 each), C Brady, M Argue and K Boucher (0-1 each). DUBLIN: L Molloy; R McGowan, D Byrne, R McDaid; J Small, J McCaffrey, B Fenton; P O’Higgins, E Lowndes; N Scully, S Boland, N Walsh; C McHugh, P Mannion, C Costello.
Subs for Dublin: E O Conghaile for O’Higgins (27), G Burke for Walsh (39), G Ivory for Boland (39), Shane Cunningham for Scully (56).
CAVAN: J Farrelly; A Watson, K Clarke, B Fortune; C Brady, P Faulkner, G Smith; CP Moynagh, L Buchanan; P Graham, D McVeety, M Argue; E Flanagan, J Dillion, T Hayes.
Subs for Cavan: A O’Hara for Moynagh (23), K Boucher for Dillion (bc, 46), Moynagh for Fortune (48), C Byrne for Flanagan (50), E Hession for Graham (54), G McGovern for Buchanan (61).
Referee: D O’Mahoney (Tipperary).