Saturday, in case you didn’t realise, was Groundhog Day in the US, the 133rd installment of a rodent climbing out of a burrow to predict the weather.
Good weather, thankfully, is predicted, for Pennsylvanians at least, who have apparently avoided a further six weeks of the worst of winter.
Jim Gavin probably wasn’t aware of Saturday’s significance in the US calendar but his Dublin team did give a fitting tribute to the phenomenon of Groundhog Day — better known in this part of the world as a metaphor for recurring events.
Like last year’s All-Ireland final, and the league final win over Galway, it was neck and neck initially on Saturday before Dublin pulled away.
There was just a point in it at half-time yet by the 57th minute it was all over, Dean Rock scoring the game’s only goal to leave eight points in it. Another dose of lethal venom applied.
Dublin outscored Galway by 1-9 to 0-2 in the second half and in doing so indicated that a good six weeks or so is probably on the horizon for them too as they target a successful title defence.
“We tightened up in the second half, we’d some great movement to our play and kept that level up,” said Gavin.
He was correct, of course. Dublin were much improved in the second half and tore Galway asunder at times with the speed and intricacy of their attacking play. Just weeks into the new year, and having lost in Clones six days earlier, it was another reminder that Dublin at Croke Park are an altogether different beast.
Yet Galway will kick themselves for allowing history to repeat itself and for falling to Dublin for the third in under a year. In all, they have played Dublin four times in 11 months and failed to win.
The Connacht champions were lively in the first half, full of running and precise with their play but their levels dipped in the second half and sloppy mistakes cost them. Cillian McDaid going off with a foot injury after a fine first-half performance didn’t help.
“We had 12 kicked turnovers in the second half which is unacceptable,” said Galway manager Kevin Walsh, comparing that to just five in the first half. “Allowing Dublin to counter-attack by kicking away so many stupid balls is always going to put you under pressure.”
A lengthy injury list allied to the absence of the Corofin players, some of whom played in the win over Cavan, didn’t help the visitors who slipped to their first round robin league defeat since March, 2017. The sense of deja vu was strong as Dublin, sticking to their 2018 script, came good when it counted and had game breakers in Cormac Costello, Paul Mannion, Dean Rock, and Brian Fenton.
Costello got the man-of-the-match award after shooting six points, his last score came following a mark, while Rock kicked 1-5. Mannion was at his industrious best, as was 2018 Footballer of the Year Fenton.
On a spring Saturday evening in Croke Park, it all felt so predictable as Dublin, who have now played 93 league and Championship games under Gavin, ensured they didn’t lose back-to-back games for the first time in that period.
They took the lead for the first time in the 30th minute, were 0-6 to 0-5 ahead at half-time and scored 1-5 without reply between the 48th and 60th minutes to end the contest.
“When the goal went in, I have to say, we wouldn’t be happy that defeat was maybe accepted at that time,” said Walsh.
But that’s our first league defeat where there’s been points on offer in two years almost, so it’s not bad consistency from the team either.”
Mannion, Costello, and Rock were superb but on another night it might have been Kilkenny, Andrews, and Scully, or O’Callaghan, Brogan, and O’Gara.
That’s just how Dublin roll these days, their options seems endless. Three more league debuts were handed out by Gavin; to Liam Flatman, Sean Bugler, and Darren Gavin, while Eoin Murchan and Ryan Basquel started their first Division 1 games.
There were unfamiliar names in the Galway ranks too; Fintan Cooney, David Cunnane, and Gearoid Armstrong all coming on in the second half.
Like Dublin, if the sides meet again at Croke Park later in spring, or in the Championship, the personnel will be a lot different.
“It’s early in the year, it’s very hard to make any assessments,” said Walsh, when asked about Dublin.
“I’m sure Dublin will be saying the same about ourselves. You probably don’t learn a lot about the opposition, it’s more about your own team and just seeing what you do well as a group and what you need to improve on.”
D Rock (1-5, 2 f); C Costello (0-6, 1 mark); P Mannion (0-2); S Bugler, N Scully (1 mark) (0-1).
P Cooke, C McDaid (0-2); J Heaney, B McHugh (1 free), S Walsh (1 free) (0-1).
E Comerford; E Lowndes, M Fitzsimons, L Flatman; E Murchan, J Cooper, J Small; J McCarthy, B Fenton; N Scully, C Costello, S Bugler; R Basquel, P Mannion, D Rock.
B Howard for Basquel (48); P Flynn for Bugler (55); J McCaffrey for Small, D Gavin for McCarthy (61); C McHugh for Mannion (66).
M Breathnach; G Bradshaw, S Kelly, E Kerin; G O’Donnell, SA O Ceallaigh, J Heaney; K Duggan, T Flynn; C McDaid, J Duane, P Cooke; P Cunningham, C D’Arcy, S Walsh.
B McHugh for McDaid (h/t); F Cooney for D’Arcy, D Cummins for Cunningham, G Armstrong for Cooke (61), D Cunnane for O Ceallaigh (67).
C Branagan (Down).