“A great test,” was how Jim Gavin described this Super 8 game. And that it was — two teams unbeaten in Championship with provincial silverware to their names locking horns. The equivalent of the pre-qualifier All-Ireland semi-final. An All-Ireland series game in its purest form.
But the greatest test of the evening seemed to be of Gavin’s patience and Dublin’s slackness in converting scores.
“The chances that we had, that we didn’t convert, is disappointing, particularly when we spend most of our practice sessions going after the skills of the game — shooting for points and goals.”
That line was delivered in typically cool Gavin fashion but the emphasis on the words “how it should be done” in the following sentence when
complimenting Niall Scully’s execution for his two goals left nobody in the Croke Park media auditorium unclear about the manager’s disgruntlement.
“Yes, that was great to see,” he opened about the Templeogue-Synge Street player’s goals, one coming in each half. “I suppose Niall showed the rest of the guys that’s how it should be done, so hats off to him. Great moves, I have to say, to create the goal chances for him and expertly finished, so well done to him.”
As Dublin switch their focus to Omagh, Gavin has been given a rod to beat his forwards, three of him were taken off before the end. It surprising that Ciarán Kilkenny wasn’t one of them, as surprising as how poorly he played. Dispossessed at least twice and kicking wide on four occasions (five if you include the errant shot after advantage was given), it was a rare off-day for a man who had been his team’s leading contender for footballer of the year. Brian Fenton may now have taken his place.
Con O’Callaghan will too be reminded to be more composed. His good work did engineer two of the four goal openings Dublin failed to
exploit but Shaun Patton dealt with both well.
A dreadful point attempt or an overambitious lob of Patton early in the second half, O’Callaghan’s act summed up what should be a rude awakening for last year’s young footballer of the year.
But Dublin players are the type of bunch that won’t need to be reminded of their shortcomings and will self-flagellate. Donegal too will kick themselves for allowing Dublin to use possession to take the sting out of the game, even when the Leinster winners went 16 minutes without a score before substitute Paul Flynn’s second point in the fifth minute of added time.
“We were in control, that is for sure,” Gavin agreed.
“We controlled the game well particularly the last 10 or 15 minutes. I think the team finished it really well, the
substitutes that came on all played their part and brought something to the game and gave us a new impetus. I thought we closed it out very well and in this format it is all about coming away with the two points at this stage of it. To that end, we are satisfied.”
His opposite number Declan Bonner knew that there was something lacking in what his team presented in that finale. Even four points down, there was an air of inevitability around the stadium as the 53,501 crowd seemed more interesting in conversing with each other than the proceedings in front of them. As Dublin played keep-ball, there was a chorus of boos, quickly drowned out by cheers for each pass from Hill 16.
“I just felt there was more in us, maybe it was that belief just to get over the line against Dublin,” he rued.
“Maybe sometimes teams just don’t perform like they should, maybe too much respect at times, but you’re playing against a real quality Dublin side.
“It ebbed and flowed. From our point of view, we didn’t get to the levels we did throughout the Ulster campaign, but again we’re against a different quality.
“We’re against the best side in the country, that has been there for the last three/four years, and they have won the last three All-Irelands.
“They are a quality side. They’re probably the greatest Gaelic football team that’s ever graced the GAA pitch.”
Bonner felt the experience will stand to his relatively young side, particularly
goalkeeper Patton whose greenness Dublin were keen to seize on in the opening half and early in the second by pushing up.
“Dublin squeezed the kick-outs, there’s no doubt about it. Shaun Patton — it’s a learning curve for Shaun. First year. Really good Ulster campaign and he was outstanding throughout Ulster. We knew Dublin would be forcing the issue in terms of kick-outs, and that was a huge factor in the game, not just our kick-outs but Stephen Cluxton.”
Dublin led 1-9 to 0-8 at half-time, Scully’s first goal landing in the 27th minute as he slalomed in from the wing and darted towards goal before finishing under Patton.
While Brian Howard’s influence dimmed, his fellow half-forward Scully remained a livewire and found the net a second time less than two
minutes into the second half when Kilkenny and Johnny Cooper combined to set him up.
A Dean Rock point then came by way of an interception and another destructive second-half display from Dublin looked to be on the cards.
However, Donegal picked off four points without reply. Substitutes Cormac Costello and Flynn added a brace of points each and both Brian Fenton and Jack McCaffrey had shots at goal snuffed out as Donegal persevered, their first scoreable free awarded in the 57th minute.
A lack of belief may have held them back in the end but there’s plenty to believe in with this Donegal side.
Just as it can be believed that Dublin will improve in the coming weeks as. If there is any such thing as an unacceptable win this, for them, was one.
Scorers for Dublin: D Rock (0-7, 5 frees, 1 45); N Scully (2-0); B Howard, C Costello, P Flynn (0-2 each); C Kilkenny, J McCarthy (0-1 each).
Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy (0-6, 3 frees, 1 45); J Brennan (0-3); R McHugh, M Langan (0-2 each); F McGlynn, C Thompson, E Doherty (0-1 each).
DUBLIN: S Cluxton (c); M Fitzsimons, J Cooper, E Murchan; J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, MD Macauley; N. Scully, C O’Callaghan, B Howard; C Kilkenny.
Subs for Dublin: C Costello for MD Macauley (46); K McManamon for P Mannion (48); P Flynn for B Howard (54); E Lowndes for J McCaffrey (62); C Basquel for C O’Callaghan (70); D Daly for M Fitzsimons (70+5).
DONEGAL: S Patton; E Bán Gallagher, E Doherty, P McGrath; F McGlynn, P Brennan, S McMenamin; H McFadden, M Murphy (c); O Mac Niallais, L McLoone, C Thompson; R McHugh, M Langan, J Brennan.
Subs for Donegal: N McGee for P McGrath (inj h-t); D Ó Baoill for O Mac Niallais (51); C Mulligan for C Thompson (53); C Ward for E Doherty (57); A Thompson for P Brennan (62); S McBrearty for J Brennan (66).
Referee: C Lane (Cork).