They’ll naturally be remembered for great summer days but when Jim Gavin was in charge of Dublin, they prided also themselves on not losing Allianz League games.
Each spring, they laid down a platform for Championship success by dogging it out in difficult conditions, the wins over Tyrone (2013), Cork (2014), and Mayo (2016), the series of gutsy draws in the 2017 campaign and the draw with Galway in 2018 all central to the development of a near unbeatable team.
Already in the Dessie Farrell era, there’s a number of games that could be added to that list; last month’s draw with Kerry, the epic comeback against Monaghan and Saturday’s one-point defeat of Donegal.
Trailing by five points after a slow start, the curious theme of Farrell’s brief reign, Dublin didn’t draw level until the 60th minute and only led for the first time in the 66th time when Paul Mannion netted.
Full-back David Byrne, who hit the equaliser against Monaghan, was the unlikely last action hero again with the 72nd-minute point that eventually separated the All-Ireland champions and the Ulster champions.
“On the plus side, we’re happy with the level of intensity that was shown, particularly in the first-half, even though we struggled in the early quarter,” said Farrell.
“But it was still better than what we put out two weeks ago against Monaghan so that was a plus. Overall, our intensity was a little bit higher than that game so happy with that. On the downside, we coughed up a couple of goal chances. Evan Comerford did really well at certain stages, made some big saves so there’s huge room for growth and improvement.”
The win, Dublin’s second of the campaign and a result that maintains their unbeaten record in the league under Farrell, allowed the new manager to breathe out.
“Getting two points at this stage takes a little bit of the pressure off now for the remainder of the league,” he said.
“The league for us is about looking at new players.”
The surprising recall of Craig Dias, eight years after he was cut loose by Gavin, brought to 27 the number of players who have featured for Farrell in the league. Cormac Costello made it 28 when he came on at half-time.
It didn’t work out so well for Dias, the 2011 All-Ireland medal winner taken off at half-time as the team trailed 1-6 to 0-7.
Mind you, it had been worse earlier when they trailed by five and with momentum now behind them, Costello helped Dublin fight back to level terms and beyond in the second-half, kicking an important point during the recovery.
Gavin used 37 players in last year’s league and Farrell could easily go beyond that with Michael Darragh Macauley, Jonny Cooper, Cian O’Sullivan, Con O’Callaghan and Stephen Cluxton still to feature. Cluxton had shoulder surgery over winter and had been due to return at some stage in March though Farrell said there’s no definite comeback date. Farrell clearly has a solid understudy in Evan Comerford, a Sigerson Cup winner with DCU, who took a full-force shot in the face from Paddy McBrearty during the second-half to keep Dublin’s fightback going.
Of the more established players, Brian Fenton kicked two hugely important points in a row to add fuel to Dublin’s fiery revival and Brian Howard had his moments too, the Raheny man sending in the high ball that led to Mannion bundling in the goal.
From Donegal manager Declan Bonner’s perspective, that was one of the key moments in the game.
“It probably turned on two instances; we had a goal opportunity to really make it difficult for Dublin to get back at us, we didn’t take that opportunity and the goal we gave away then was poor,” said Bonner.
“At this level, you get punished, and we were punished.”
Scorers for Dublin: D Rock (0-4, 3 frees); P Mannion (1-0); B Fenton, S Bugler, C Kilkenny, B Howard (0-2 each); C Costello, C Basquel, D Byrne (0-1 each).
Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy (0-5, 2 frees, 1 mark); H McFadden (1-1); J Brennan, C Thompson (1 free), P Mogan (0-2 each); M Langan, P McBrearty (0-1 each).
DUBLIN: E Comerford; E Murchan, D Byrne, M Fitzsimons; C Dias, J Small, C O’Shea; B Fenton, B Howard; N Scully, C Kilkenny, S Bugler; P Mannion, K McManamon, D Rock.
Subs: C Costello for Dias (h/t); C Basquel for McManamon (54); A Byrne for Bugler (68); P Small for Rock (73).
DONEGAL: S Patton; C Ward, N McGee, EB Gallagher; D O Baoill, R McHugh, O McFadden Ferry; H McFadden, M Langan; P Brennan, C Thompson, C McGonagle; P Mogan, M Murphy, J Brennan.
Subs: N O’Donnell for P Brennan (46); P McBrearty for McGonigle (52); B McCole for Ward (52); E McHugh for J Brennan (62).
Ref: M Deegan (Laois).