Fools us if we considered Dublin were going to struggle after going a man down with 20 minutes of normal time to go.
This fifth Division 1 title in six years was achieved doing just that and winning that period by two points.
Jim Gavin’s men really don’t do panic - not since Donegal 2014 anyway - and so it proved once more as they made light of losing Niall Scully to a second yellow card, his second such brace of offences in this year’s league.
Gavin suggested the decision was harsh - “I don’t know if he (Scully) was unlucky to get the double yellow to be honest but to find ourselves in that situation gave us a great opportunity to finish with players - Eoin Murchan, Con O’Callaghan, Colm Basquel, Shane Carthy - who haven’t experienced that intensity. That was quite as close to Championship as you’re going to get for this time of the year.”
But their handling of the game in such difficult circumstances was so admirable. From that second Scully infringement, Barry McHugh sailed a free on the wind and over the bar to cut the difference to one point and when Shane Walsh dropped over a splendid score in the 54th minute the Galway folk in the 36,754 attendance sensed victory.
It never came, though. Galway may have been ahead on one occasion in the first half but they couldn’t built on that Walsh score. A Cathal Sweeney foul on Paul Mannion was punished by Dean Rock and although Galway drew level once more thanks to a fisted Damien Comer point they went another nine minutes without a score.
Ruairí Lavelle had to be alert to deny Rock a goal in the 59th minute after a dizzyingly incisive Dublin attack but Rock did add the resultant 45 and they were sharp to seize the kick-out, the move ending with a Ciarán Kilkenny score.
Comer fired over a beautiful point to breathe on Dublin’s necks once more but Philly McMahon cancelled it out a minute later. In additional time, substitute Eric Lowndes fluffed the cushion and Rock finished out the scoring to punish a foul on Brian Fenton.
“We controlled the game,” reviewed Gavin of the finale. “We played it on our terms, which is what we try to do in all the games we play. Defensively, we were very solid to limit Galway to six scores in the second half, especially after the wind picked up because it felt like that on the touchline. We got that bit right in our game. We played with great intent and we drove hard and went at them. There was a lot of unselfish work by the Dublin players, picking up Galway runners. A lot of breaking ball was won, there was really unselfish work and great hunger shown by the players. When the game was there to be won by either team, I really thought the Dublin guys stepped up.”
Fourteen against 15 of a side who haven’t disappointed so often in Croke Park, Dublin may have had their hands fuller. Their unfamiliarity with the place never mind the occasion was obvious when Galway’s stats team were only finding their seats just before throw-in.
But it wasn’t as if the Galway side collapsed or let themselves down. With their Corofin men returning, they will be formidable and this experience will stand to them in the long run.
For long stretches in the first half, they were the better team and the torment Comer caused the Dublin defence was considerable: he won three frees inside the first 19 minutes, which McHugh pointed, as well as adding a point of his own.
The running lines of the likes of Peter Cooke was causing bother and while Dublin had a couple of good goal chances they would have been bemused not to be up at the break having enjoyed the breeze blowing from Hill 16.
It was 0-8 apiece on the turnaround but Dublin fashioned a three-point lead by the 45th minute as they squeezed up on Galway and the Brians, Fenton and Howard, reigned the skies. Scully’s departure five minutes later would only make them more determined to achieve and once more validate their consistency.
“It does surprise me,” said Gavin in most of his most expansive passages complimenting his players. “What they achieved last year was remarkable. The easy thing to do was to kick back, which they did. We didn’t see them until we had a two-week lead-up into the league. Maybe four big sessions (were) done. For them to go away and be so diligent with themselves... that’s what the remarkable thing about them is, that they’re always on script.
“They demand so much from each other, and they do genuinely see representing Dublin as a privilege. I don’t get any falsehood regarding that. It’s a genuine love of the jersey. That’s what makes Gaelic games. We always say it’s a volunteer, community-based sport, and that’s the way the guys see it.
“You could see the passion there in the Galway players as well. They gave everything that they could today. But I wouldn’t get carried away, it’s still April. Does it have any relevance to championship? Not really. A lot of water will pass under the bridge before we open our legs up in the first round of the Championship.”
Scorers for Dublin:
D. Rock (0-7, 5 frees, 1 45); P. Mannion (0-3); C. Kilkenny, C. Basquel (0-2 each); J. Small, N. Scully, P. McMahon, E. Lowndes (0-1 each).
Scorers for Galway:
B. McHugh (0-6, 5 frees); D. Comer (0-3); J. Heaney, S. Walsh (1 free) (0-2 each); P Conroy (0-1).
S. Cluxton (c); D. Byrne, P. McMahon, M. Fitzsimons; J. McCarthy, J. Cooper, J. Small; B. Fenton, M.D. Macauley; B. Howard, P. Mannion, N. Scully; K. McManamon, C. Kilkenny, D. Rock.
Subs for Dublin:
E. Lowndes for J. McCarthy (inj 35); C. Basquel for K. McManamon (h-t); E. Murchan for J. Small (blood, 40); C. O’Callaghan for M.D. Macauley (54); S. Carthy for P. Mannion (68); J. Small for P. McMahon (70+3).
N. Scully (50, second yellow).
R. Lavelle; S.A. Ó Ceallaigh, J. Heaney, D. Kyne; C. Sweeney, E. Kerin, G. Bradshaw; P. Conroy. C. Duggan, P. Cooke; E. Brannigan, B. McHugh, S. Kelly; S. Walsh, D. Comer (c).
Subs for Galway:
G. O’Donnell for J. Heaney (62); T. Flynn for P. Cooke (67); P. Sweeney for P. Conroy (68); A. Varley for S. Walsh, J. Duane for G. Bradshaw (both 70).
A. Nolan (Wicklow).
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