The final word, appropriately, was Sean Quigley’s.
Though they lost by eight points, this was Fermanagh’s day and no-one epitomised the never-say-die attitude Pete McGrath’s side brandished at HQ more than their bearded full-forward who kicked over the last score - his eighth - from a free.
It was Quigley who bundled Stephen Cluxton and the ball into the Dublin net after 62 minutes and it was Quigley who harangued the umpires and the referee into awarding the goal when, in truth, he had been guilty of a frontal charge.
Nevertheless, it was a moment that injected some desperately desired excitement and passion into a weekend at Croke Park that had been insipid and dispiriting until then with the runaway victories posted by Tyrone, Donegal and Kerry.
The last ten minutes or so would give us two more goals – from Dublin’s Paul Flynn and one from Fermanagh’s Tomas Corrigan after some Keystone Cops defending by Cluxton and the Leinster champions – and a soundtrack from the stands and Hill 16 that was heretofore silent.
What it all amounted to was a curate’s egg of a game: Dublin still won comfortably, but Fermanagh had done enough to enjoy this rare trip to the capital at the height of summer and, who knows, maybe they exposed a mental fragility in Jim Gavin’s side to boot.
That last bit remains to be seen, but the Dublin manager was honest and open about the uncharacteristic fall-off in his side’s levels in that last quarter or so when Fermanagh outgunned them 2-6 to 1-4.
It was disappointing, he admitted.
“Yeah, you would be. The last quarter, the players won’t need me to tell them that the last quarter won’t be good enough against the likes of Mayo or Donegal and that certainly gives us areas to focus on and improve on over the coming weeks.
“We sat off them and gave them some space, gave them time on the ball and, in fairness to Fermanagh, I’m not plámásing them, when they got that space they took some very good scores. All credit to them and I think they will do very well in Division Two next year.”
He had some cause to quibble. The free count went against Dublin 21 to four – the latter an astonishingly low number in modern football – and the first Fermanagh goal prompted him to express surprise that tackles on goalkeepers were allowed under rule.
Ultimately, as Gavin said, the referee’s performance lies beyond his control. His bench, however, is something that does fall within his remit and it was notable here that it contributed nothing to the scoreboard despite the addition of Alan Brogan, Cormac Costello, Kevin McManamon and the like.
“Everyone’s effort was top class,” said Gavin. “They tried their best and I would never question this team’s effort. It was just that some things did not go right for them and Fermanagh exploited that. Our objective was to win the game and we have achieved that and we are into the last four now.” That much was never in doubt. Fermanagh were gutsy and game from the off, but they didn’t help themselves with an attack that had them moving well into double figures for shots on goal that fell short or wide by half-time. Dublin were far less wasteful.
They were already moving into gear by the 13th minute when Jack McCaffrey arrowed in an exocet of a pass that evaded the lunge of Niall Cassidy and found its way to Bernard Brogan who, one-on-one with the goalkeeper, picked his spot in the rigging.
Two points from Quigley and another pair from Barry Mulrone kept the Ulster side ticking over in that opening period but a run of six points from seven approaching half-time left Dublin comfortably cushioned at 1-13 to 0-6.
Ciaran Kilkenny, the scorer of three points by then, failed to reappear with what Gavin later described as a minor stiffness in his back while the pre-match inclusions of Denis Bastick and Paddy Andrews for Michael Darragh Macauley and Kevin McManamon were described as tactical.
In truth, the identities of those wearing the blue jerseys seemed moot by then.
The gap yawned wider as the second-half matured although Diarmuid Connolly and Dean Rock had shots at goal cleared off the line before the 40-minute mark. It hardly mattered as Dublin continued to go diligently about their business. All bar one of their scores, a Brian Fenton point after 62 minutes, would eventually be claimed by Dublin’s six starting forwards, but it was Fermanagh’s Quigley who fashioned the lion’s share of attention in the wake of this game with his input.
Slim enough pickings for the neutral after a weekend that left most people cold.
Scorers for Dublin:
B Brogan (1-6); D Rock (0-7, 3 frees); P Flynn (1-1); P Andrews and C Kilkenny (both 0-3); D Connolly (0-2); B Fenton (0-1).
Scorers for Fermanagh:
S Quigley (0-8, 4 frees); T Corrigan (1-2, 0-1 free); Own goal (1-0); B Mulrone (0-3); C Jones (0-2).
S Cluxton; J Cooper, R O’Carroll, P McMahon; J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, D Bastick; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, D Connolly; D Rock, P Andrews, B Brogan.
Subs: MD Macaulaey for Bastick and K McManamon for Kilkenny (both HT); A Brogan for Connolly (48); M Fitzsimons for Cooper (50); J Small for McCarthy (56); C Costello for Andrews (66).
T Treacy; M Jones, R McCluskey, N Cassidy; D McCusker, M O’Brien, J McMahon; E Donnelly, R O’Callaghan; R Jones, B Mulrone, R Corrigan; P McCusker, S Quigley, T Corrigan.
Subs: D Kelly for P McCusker (43); C Jones for D McCusker and T Daly for T Jones (55); D Kille for R Corrigan (68).
P O’Sullivan (Kerry).
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