Dublin unveil a capital idea on their first night out
Dublin's Paddy Quinn is tackled by Andrew O'Sullivan of Cork during Saturday night's National League game at Croke Park. photograph: cathal noonan/inpho
Dublin 1-18 Cork 2-9:On a Saturday night of ultimately pretty routine league fare, Dublin sprung a surprise. A shock to end all shocks. Not the six-point win over defending champions Cork – although ease of the home victory raised an eyebrow or two, if not the mere fact of it. No, what nearly knocked us out of our standing was when Jim Gavin walked into the press interview room afterwards with none other than Stephen Cluxton in tow.
Confirmation of the murmurs that had the Dublin goalkeeper down to be named team captain for the year, the sight of Cluxton taking his seat behind a row of microphones and tape recorders was still a curious one. After all, when he was named as International Rules captain in 2011, he took the job on the basis that he be excused media duties.
Yet here he was, showered and changed into his Dublin track-suit and ready to take questions. Not looking terribly comfortable about it, mind you, but then we’re a fearsome bunch in the GAA press corps. Some of us had even finished complaining about the cold by the time he arrived.
Had he, we wondered, been at all reluctant to take the job seeing as it was going to mean having to spend some time doing the media dance he had avoided all these years? “I had a good think about it,” he said. “Jim assured me of my role so I was happy enough to take it on board. Hopefully I’ll do the job that he requested.”
The main job he did on Saturday was the one he’s been doing since he first stepped into the Dublin number one jersey 11 years ago. On a night where Dublin were comfortably the more coherent side, they nevertheless gave up far more room through the middle of their defence than Gavin will be happy with.
The upshot was that they coughed up two goals and would have leaked a couple more were it not for Cluxton pulling off fine saves in either half from John O’Rourke and Colm O’Neill. Whatever changes, Cluxton’s dependability won’t.
In front of him, Dublin motored well and most pleasing of all to Gavin will be the fact that his best performers were for the most part his youngest. Jack McCaffrey’s rise continues apace at wing-back and there were eye-catching cameos from Johnny Cooper and Emmet Ó Conghaile as well.
Paddy Andrews is a little beyond the stage of youthful promise but here again were hints that we might be about to see his potential realised – five points from play told an accurate tale of his contribution to the Dublin effort.
He scored three of them in a first half in which Dublin caught a hold of Cork early and didn’t let go. Bernard Brogan was quietly effective all night, right from the moment he opened the scoring with his first kick of the game 40 seconds in. He, Andrews and Diarmuid Connolly were given all the acres they liked down around the Hill 16 end of the pitch and they took full advantage. Between them they were responsible for seven of Dublin’s 11 first-half points and with McCaffrey bombing forward to provide two of the others, they had Cork all but put away.
That Conor Counihan’s side were in touch at all was down to a well-worked goal from Aidan Walsh, the midfielder latching fluidly onto a brilliant catch and lay-off from Colm O’Neill 12 minutes into the game. Two excellent points in succession from under the Hogan Stand by Paul Kerrigan hinted at a revival but it never really materialised.
After going in at the break four points down, Cork nailed the first score after the restart through Fintan Goold. But any chance they had of making a game of it disappeared when Paul Ryan was tripped as he bore down on goal after 43 minutes and Diarmuid Connolly buried the penalty to make it 1-12 to 1-6. From there on Dublin had no great difficulties, even after Donncha O’Connor converted a penalty of his own to give Cork’s total a sheen it didn’t particularly deserve.
This was Cork’s first defeat in their opening league fixture since 2007. They had a young side out, with all four of Michael Shields, Graham Canty, Alan O’Connor and Ciarán Sheahan missing from the side that was named in the programme and replaced by willing but inexperienced substitutes.
Only Sheahan’s replacement John O’Rourke distinguished himself with three points from play. The last of them took Cork to within five points but the goal they needed wouldn’t come – O’Neill had the best chance with five minutes to go but Cluxton kept him out.
“Our performance wasn’t good enough,” said Counihan afterwards. “There was no doubting Dublin were a far superior team. We were quite intent in terms of wanting to come up here and put on a performance. Now, I don’t want to take form Dublin and their victory but from our point of view we would be very, very disappointed with it.”