The famous Blue Wave strategic plan had set out the goal of winning an All-Ireland at this level every five years. What has been achieved this decade suggests that aspiration wasn’t aspirational enough.
But this Dublin team weren’t expected to go all the way. If anything, they were the less fancied of the five teams Farrell has entered into the competition. Indeed, only two from the current group are involved in the senior set-up. Comparisons with the 2010, ’12 and ’14 teams, many of whom have blossomed into marvellous senior footballers, are redundant.
In joint-captain Cillian O’Shea’s acceptance speech, there seemed to be an acceptance this truly was the end of an era not just for the competition but this group too as the vast majority will never wear the blue and navy again (many are not eligible for U20 in 2018).
But if that’s the case they can be truly proud with how they bowed out. Galway may have threatened a comeback in the closing stages but Dublin were not in the mood to be denied.
The Leinster champions’ led by eight points in the 45th minute, 1-10 to 0-5, when their impressive midfielder Brian Howard sent over a point. Cillian McDaid scored the first goal against Dublin in the entire campaign as he finished expertly after some good work involving Eric Lee and Micheál Daly, who otherwise found Eoin Murchan a difficult proposition.
A Brian Molloy point followed and Galway had cut their deficit in half. Aaron Byrne then palmed weakly into Galway goalkeeper Ronán Ó Beoláin’s hands when a goal could have killed off the game and Dublin then lived dangerously, only the butt of the post preventing a second Galway goal, the shot this time from Ruairí Greene as McDaid turned provider.
But an Antaine Ó Laoi wide from a free further killed momentum and Byrne made no mistake with a second goal opportunity in the 57th minute after Murchan had teed him up. Con O’Callaghan could afford to send a penalty kick over the bar and although Colm Brennan forced a sloppy second goal for Galway, it was Dublin substitute Stephen Smith who finished off the scoring.
“We don’t do things too easy, ” smiled Farrell afterwards. “But we just had enough on the scoreboard. And there was enough of a gap between us. It was nervy enough stuff, for sure. I think the burst just after half-time saw us through.”
Leading by one at half-time, 0-5 to 0-4, with a swirling breeze in their favour, the wind changed for their benefit in the second-half but it mattered little in just how Dublin tore into their opponents.
After three points in a row, Dublin’s first goal came courtesy of Howard claiming a mark from a Galway re-start and advancing the ball forward. Byrne instinctively found O’Callaghan who palmed the ball to the net.
Galway manager Gerry Fahy bemoaned that Dublin four-minute purple patch. “Dublin got a spell that really punished us, every chance they got they put it over the bar. They got three, four or five in a row and I think that ultimately proved the difference. Even when we got the goals it wasn’t enough for us to claw them back.”
Fahy felt Galway weren’t playing well in the first-half yet they trailed by the minimum after Dublin had bossed possession. Colm Basquel helped himself to two points in that opening period but could have added a goal having been found in space by O’Callaghan. Ó Beoláin snuffed out his shot with a point-blank save.
As Dublin were getting the better of the match-ups, one duel Galway won was at the edge of their square even though Dublin full-forward O’Callaghan managed 1-1 from play.
Fahy glowed about his full-back’s display: “I don’t know who the people in the stands gave man of the match to (TG4 analyst Coman Goggins awarded it to Dublin midfielder Darren Gavin), but to me Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh gave as good a display as I ever saw in a Gaelic jersey anywhere in the country.”
After their full-back line was destroyed by Tipperary in Croke Park last year, Galway’s need there is great. Fahy anticipates the Leitir Mór clubman has shown he will in time be capable of filling a role at the highest level.
“It’s a different grade but on today’s performance, he was absolutely outstanding. Coming out and attacking the ball and driving out with power and energy and no shortage of technical skill either.”
The future may be brighter for more of these defeated Galway tyros than those that vanquished them but Saturday was and forever will be Dublin’s day as they brought down the curtain on an illustrious competition with a performance to cherish.
C O’Callaghan (1-3, 0-1 free, 0-1 pen); G O’Reilly (0-3); A Byrne (1-0); C Basquel, D O’Brien (0-2 each); D Gavin, B Howard, S Smith (0-1 each).
C McDaid (1-1); C Brennan (1-0); M Daly, E Finnerty, P Cooke (free), P Mannion, K Molloy, C Brady (0-1 each).
E Comerford; D Byrne, S McMahon, D Monaghan; C O’Shea, E Murchan, C Murphy; A Foley, B Howard; D O’Brien, G O’Reilly, A Byrne; T Fox, C O’Callaghan, C Basquel.
D Gavin for A Foley (inj, 13); D Spillane for T Fox (39); C Sallier for G O’Reilly (45); A McGowan for S McMahon (60); P Small for C Basquel (60+1); S Smith for A Byrne (60+1).
R Ó Beoláin; L Kelly, SA Ó Ceallaigh, R Greene; C McDaid, D McHugh, K Molloy; P Cooke, C D’Arcy; P Mannion, M Daly, S Kelly; R Finnerty, E Finnerty, D Conneely.
C Brady for R Finnerty (h-t); C Brennan for C D’arcy (37); M Boyle for D Conneely (39); E Lee for S. Kelly (44); A Ó Laoi for P Mannion (54); P Ó Curraoin for K Molloy (60).
C Branagan (Down).
Farrell: These boys have backbone
Dessie Farrell reckons this latest group of All-Ireland U21-winning Dubs aren’t the best but is certain that they are the hardest working.
With the exception of Con O’Callaghan and Dublin’s midfielders, it was obvious on Saturday just how small in stature Dublin were across the field compared to their Galway counterparts. But that never deterred them and Farrell, while acknowledging their shortcomings, also praised the way in which they were able to compensate for them.
“They’re probably not the most talented team to put on a blue jersey and they won’t mind me saying that, but without a shadow of a doubt they’re the hardest working bunch that I’ve ever been involved with.
“We worked hard in creating the culture around them this year that they could thrive and prosper as players and as people as well. They embraced that with open arms. They were phenomenal.”
Avoiding situations where Galway would hold the upper hand was key to victory in O’Connor Park, Farrell believed.
“I think we did a reasonably good job of passing the ball around them, moving around them and trying to take it away from the physical battle. Size and physicality are important for sure and we’re not the biggest team. We worked really hard and thankfully we’ve a fair bit of pace in the team, which helped.
"But ultimately there are certain innate characteristics that you need to give yourself the chance to move on and they may not have some of the traits but, to me, they have the most important thing and that’s plenty of heart, character, and backbone. You’re not going anywhere without that.”
Farrell, who again ruled himself out of taking the senior Dublin job and indicated he won’t be involved next year as the U21 championship changes to a developmental U20 competition, praised the outgoing format.
“It’s a wonderful competition. I fell in love with it many years ago and even though we won’t be involved we’ll sorely miss it. I think you’ll see something similar in U20. The physical shape a lot of lads coming out of minor at now, I don’t think we’re going to lose a lot.”