There was a strange atmosphere during the opening stages of yesterdays All-Ireland quarter-final between Dublin and Fermanagh.
Maybe those in attendance were still digesting the Kerry goalfest in their demolition of Kildare and that one-sided affair added to the nervousness that we might see something similar in the day’s second game.
We had much comment in the build-up about how this game would benefit nobody, how Fermanagh were lambs to the slaughter and how Dublin would learn nothing and have no real test before a semi-final battle with either Mayo or Donegal.
I find much of that analysis to be lazy and disrespectful to the teams involved.
Fermanagh and Pete McGrath are realistic enough to know yesterday was likely the end of their year but that doesn’t automatically mean it had to be a negative for this Fermanagh team.
Afterwards, Sean Quigley referenced how they looked to build on performances from last year’s qualifiers and after this recent run and experience from the performance against Dublin, they can build from a much higher platform going into next year’s league and Ulster championship.
Experiences like these help teams evolve and improve over a life-cycle, so to say Fermanagh gained nothing from the heart and fight they showed yesterday would be wrong.
Not only did they maintain their attitude and challenge for the full 73 minutes, they performed as a unit throughout, with individuals who will learn from competing at this stage of the championship. Many other teams who, on paper at least, are regarded as better than Fermanagh, have lacked these qualities this summer
From a Dublin perspective, we saw an efficient performance which didn’t reach the heights they are capable of.
During a cagey opening five minutes, Fermanagh shot three wides and also dropped another effort short into Stephen Cluxton’s hands, not the type of start an underdog needs.
But Jim Gavin and his Dublin defence also know its not the type of start they want to give a Mayo or Donegal who will likely be more clinical with those chances.
They got off to a similar slow start in the Leinster final against Westmeath and it is something that could be more costly down the line.
Dublin did play themselves into the game with the pick of their first-half scores coming from beautiful driven diagonal balls from Brian Fenton and Jack McCaffrey that resulted in Bernard Brogan scoring a goal and a point.
Dublin ended the half with a scoring burst of seven points that likely changed Jim Gavin’s half-time team-talk and while the second half brought a similar Dublin performance, there was a feeling they left a number of scores out there.
That might sound strange after a team has scored 2-23 and maybe we were influenced by watching Kerry run in seven goals, but Dublin’s forwards may look at the video and debate some of their decision-making.
The beautiful team goal palmed to the net by Paul Flynn was an example of how Dublin want to attack and while there must be a balance between taking a point and looking to work a goal, these Dublin forwards are good enough to create more of those clear goal chances in a game.
The Dublin defence will also feel they have scope to improve after a sloppy last 15 minutes.
After dealing with a lot of Fermanagh attacks by getting pressure on the shooter and forcing shots from distance or angles, Dublin allowed several clear opportunities late on, either down to players switching off or lack of communication.
The manner in which the two Fermanagh goals were scored is unlikely to ever be repeated but it’s a reminder to the Dublin defence that slips in concentration will be punished and although it didn’t cost them yesterday, they may not be in such a commanding lead in future games to allow for mistakes.
For a team that was supposed to get nothing out of yesterday’s game, I’d imagine Jim Gavin and his players feel very different.
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