A crowd of 16,331 emerged from competitive football’s seasonal hibernation to take in the hosts’ first appointment in an eight-team top tier since 1996/97 and a Dublin team that brought a good chunk of the attendance with them.
Those numbers caused a tailback into Cavan Town that led to a 15-minute delay.
All it did was postpone a result that everyone knew to be inevitable, but the seven-point loss was respectable enough for the hosts to look back on it all with a semblance of pride and nostalgia in the years to come.
For Dublin, it goes down as just another step on a journey that has long since stretched past epic. Jim Gavin’s side is now 30 games unbeaten in league and championship and the second anniversary of their last defeat, to Kerry, stands less than a month distant.
Tyrone will be the next adversary charged with lowering their colours when they make the trip to Croke Park next week but who knows where this particular odyssey will end. Kingspan Breffni Park was always an unlikely contender for the honour.
Jim Gavin had named 11 of the side that claimed the All-Ireland title last October in midweek and the quality in the ranks wasn’t exactly diluted when that fell to ten with a late trio of changes, given one of those coming in was Jack McCaffrey.
The Clontarf man, a former Footballer of the Year, was playing his first game of senior inter-county football in 12 months but he gave a display of familiar mobility and intelligence that belied all that time spent in Africa.
His ability to find that rhythm from the off was replicated by most of his colleagues in the starting team, very few of whom had taken part in the successful O’Byrne Cup campaign last month and for whom collective training has resumed just this last fortnight.
One of those who did feature in January was Niall Scully who contributed two points and much more up front while James McCarthy and Michael Darragh Macauley were among the ‘vets’ whose attacking intent did so much to discomfit the Ulster side.
McGleenan has promised attacking football this term but Cavan saw fit to rush 13 players behind the ball in what could be described as a hedgehog formation every time Dublin claimed possession. It served them well in a first quarter that ended with four points scored apiece but that owed as much to an ability to break at pace and service Seán Johnston in front of Stephen Cluxton’s goal as it did any stout defence.
Johnston was a constant menace every time he received possession. One point he claimed, over the shoulder and close to the touchline as Michael Fitzsimons pulled at his shoulder, was sublime but the supply dried up as the game developed.
It looked good for Cavan midway through that first-half. Dublin had been persuaded into a handful of long-range attempts that fell short and Kevin McManamon had just been done for over-carrying when a scuffle broke out that suggested at least some frustration in the visiting ranks.
Maintaining that stubborn intensity was another ask.
Dublin’s claim on possession and territory grew, their familiarity with the task at hand imbuing them with the knowledge that the gaps would come and that, in the likes of Macauley, McManamon and McCarthy, they had the men to probe for them.
Five points on the trot in the second quarter established the platform for a three-point half-time lead and the game was put to bed in a painless manner for everyone on the restart with Dublin claiming four of the next five points. Cavan never looked like reeling that in.
There was, if anything, a sense that they were content enough with their lot and with the sort of respectable loss against the team’s top side that can count as a plus rather than a minus as they move on.
S Johnston (0-4, 1f); N McDermott (0-2f); G Smith (0-2); J McCutcheon and C Madden (both 0-1); N Clerkin (0-1f).
D Rock (0-7, 6f); N Scully and J McCarthy (0-2); J McCaffrey, B Fenton, MD Macauley, C Kilkenny, K McManamon and J Whelan (all 0-1); C Costello (0-1f).
J Farrelly; K Brady, R Dunne, F Reilly; C Brady, C Moynagh, P Faulkner; K Clarke, J McCutcheon; D McVeety, G Smith, M Reilly; N Clerkin, N McDermott, S Johnston.
S Murray for McCutcheon and P O’Connor for McDermott (both HT); G McKiernan for Dunne (42); C Madden for Moynagh (47); N McKiernan for Clerkin (61); S O’Rourke for Madden (66).
S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, P McMahon, E Lowndes; J McCarthy, J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, MD Macauley; J Whelan, N Scully, C Kilkenny; P Mannion, D Rock, K McManamon.
C Costello for McManamon (42); C Basquel for Whelan (46); E O’Gara for Mannion (57); D Byrne for Fitzsimons (59); C Reddin for Macauley (62); C McHugh for Rock (70).
P O’Sullivan (Kerry).
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