Pat Gilroy pointed to a lack of intensity as the reason why Dublin slipped to a second Allianz League defeat yesterday.
For probably the first time this season, Dublin found that the mantle of All-Ireland champions can be hard to carry, especially in places like Newry.
Down played with an intensity and a hunger that Dublin couldn’t match. They got in Dublin’s faces, forced turnovers and fought for everything.
Armagh and Laois didn’t trouble them but Down’s battling qualities will have given Pat Gilroy food for thought. As the year goes on, there will be plenty more where this came from.
“The intensity of Down in the first half, really gave us a lesson,” admitted Gilroy.
“They were ferocious in everything they did but we upped it significantly in the second half.
“I suppose four (points) down against the wind was a big challenge for us. We were much happier with the second half and yet we still didn’t get to their intensity.
“They were at a different level to us in that area. That’s a good lesson for us.”
More worryingly for Dublin was Gilroy’s revelation that Eoghan O’Gara picked up a groin injury over the weekend. He will see a specialist today.
Given his recent good form in the league, it is a concern and the team certainly missed him yesterday as they lacked a target man up front.
Refusing to trade in the currency of excuses, Gilroy dismissed his absence as a reason for defeat.
“Eoghan had a problem with his groin yesterday. He was just doing a warm-up and there was no way he could play so that disrupted things a bit. He’d been going very well but there’s no excuses. That wasn’t the reason our intensity wasn’t at the races today.
“We were at a different level last week (against Armagh) and we didn’t get up to that level this week with our intensity and that’s the bottom line. In fairness to Down, they brought plenty of it here today.”
Trailing by five points midway through the second half, Dublin finished strongly, but it wasn’t enough.
Down were markedly improved from their last game at home against Kerry two weeks ago and the game-plan was simple. Run and run at Dublin’s packed defence, try to jink past a tackle and score or draw the foul.
Nippy forwards like Conor Laverty, Mark Poland and Danny Hughes punched a few holes in the Dublin wall. They all scored from play during the first half and they were also able to draw the frees, which Aidan Carr converted (0-4 by half-time).
It was fiery, fast and furious stuff throughout. Down came out with a real purpose and played with a level of intensity previously unseen in this league campaign.
The six yellow cards that Cormac Reilly showed in the first half was testament to the blood and guts shown on the field.
There were a couple of flashpoints, notably Aidan Brannigan’s off-the-ball tussle with Alan Brogan after Brendan McVeigh came out to gather the ball. Diarmuid Connolly picked up a yellow for an open-palmed hand-off into Conor Garvey’s face near the sideline.
The crowd were baying for red, but linesman Martin Sludden sensibly advised the referee that yellow was sufficient.
Down raced into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead inside 11 minutes and it was 0-8 to 0-4 at the break.
The Mournemen had the wind in the second half and created some quick, slick passing moves and showed good accuracy from distance with Ambrose Rogers and Kevin McKernan both landing two points in the second half.
Dublin had a good spell midway through the second half. Kevin McManamon grabbed the goal, evading his marker Conor Garvey at the near post and slid the ball underneath Brendan McVeigh.
Down’s half-forward line picked up a lot of ball and worked so hard, players like Carr and Maginn doing the donkey work allowing others to pick off the scores.
Down boss James McCartan was delighted but was not getting carried away. “Call a spade a spade, we probably caught Dublin on the hop. They had a massive win last week against Armagh and we maybe ambushed them a wee bit. But that’s great, we’ll take that all day long. What pleased me most was the perseverance and that we didn’t stop.”
Dublin, meanwhile, have their eye on loftier targets and will still feel they have a good chance of making the league semi-finals.
With Donegal and Mayo next up, there will be no hint of panic in the Dublin dressing room.
Scorers for Down: N McParland (0-1), K McKernan (0-2), A Rogers (0-2), D Hughes (0-2), M Poland (0-1), A Carr (0-5, four frees), C Laverty (0-1), B Coulter (0-1)
Scorers for Dublin: S Cluxton (0-1, a ‘45), E Fennell (0-1), MD MacAuley (0-2), K McManamon (1-1), D Connolly (0-3, three frees), A Brogan (0-2)
Subs for Down: G McCartan for Brannigan (HT), B Coulter (0-1) for E McCartan (46), B McArdle for G McCartan (56), K Duffin for Maginn (62), P Turley for King (70).
Subs for Dublin: P McMahon for Dias (HT), B Cahill for Flynn (47), T Quinn for P Brogan (58), R McConnell for Fennell (66), K Nolan for McCarthy (70).
Referee: C Reilly, Meath.
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