Dublin have to draw on reserves of character

 

Dublin 2-21 Offaly 1-20:ONE OF those days in Croke Park – the outcome both fulfilling and at the same time defying the predictions. Dublin won, Offaly lost, though not exactly the way either of them would have envisaged.

When Offaly drew level early in the second half it looked as if Dublin were in trouble. When Dublin pulled eight points clear with 10 minutes to go it looked all over. And yet this rollercoaster of a game still wasn’t decided going into injury-time.

It’s hard to tell how all this will wrestle with Dublin’s confidence. The danger is Offaly may have shaken it ahead of the likely showdown with Galway, but Dublin still had the tenacity and nerve to pull through in the end.

It probably wasn’t the game they wanted, but just the sort they needed, and manager Anthony Daly admitted as much.

Being league champions for the first time in 72 years brings great expectation, and responsibility, and ultimately Dublin held up. There’s no doubt that when Offaly made it a two-point game again with just a few minutes left, the thoughts of all 14,302 in attendance drifted back to Croke Park last summer, when Dublin blew a similar advantage against Antrim.

Dublin even had an extra man this time – as Offaly lost Derek Molloy for the final 10 minutes for a second yellow card. If there was any moment to collapse under the pressure of being league champions that was it, but Dublin’s newfound belief didn’t desert them, and after one of their finest moves of the game, substitute Peadar Carton drilled home the deciding goal.

It was interesting that Offaly manager Joe Dooley admitted afterwards he was sure his team would win at that late stage, having clawed back from 1-20 to 1-12, to 1-21 to 1-19. Dublin’s second goal did come against the run of play, but was no less than they deserved. On balance they were the better team, getting 10 different players on the score sheet compared to Offaly’s six – with Shane Dooley actually hitting a very impressive 1-13 of their total, although 11 of those were frees.

Dooley was exceptional and without him Offaly would have been in trouble. Joe Bergin only really came into the game late on and the early loss of Brian Carroll through injury didn’t help.

The extraordinary work rate that marked Dublin’s league victory over Kilkenny was missing for most of the game, and so too was the intent and fearlessness with which Dublin ran at their opposition on that occasion. Ryan O’Dwyer didn’t come near the form he displayed in the league final and it was late on before David O’Callaghan got his scoring boots on.

Yet they got the perfect start – a point from Alan McCrabbe that should have been waved wide, and then a penalty for Paul Ryan, after O’Callaghan was dragged down in front of goal. Dublin held that advantage right through the first half, but without really being on top of Offaly.

Dublin’s defence was clearly missing the stability of Tomás Brady and Joey Boland – both injured – and conceded an inordinate amount of frees, most of which Dooley duly fired over.

McCrabbe was covering a lot of ground, but Liam Rushe was still carrying the effects of a recent virus, and lacked pace – and when Offaly got a little momentum going towards half-time they had Dublin running backwards.

Their goal, in added time before the break, was coming for a while. David Kenny picked out Dooley in space, and he simply ran around Peter Kelly before rifling his shot into the Dublin goal – and with that the difference was the minimal, Dublin up 1-9 to 1-8 as they went for some isotonic drink.

Dooley started the second half in a similar flurry and straightaway drew Offaly level for the first time, but fortunately for Dublin that sounded the alarm bells – temporarily at least. Conal Keaney got back to doing the simple and important things well, and they outscored Offaly nine points to one over the next 20 minutes.

That should have put Dublin in an insurmountable position, but yet again Offaly found their way back into it, with Bergin finally showing some intent, and Dylan Hayden, Daniel Currams and Conor Mahon also hitting a point each.

Like in the first half, Dublin were guilty of several silly turnovers, and against a more capable forward line that would have proved fatal. But that will to win, coupled, no doubt, with the fear of losing, raised Dublin’s heads enough to get them over the finish line first, with relief more than joy written on each and all their faces.

DUBLIN: G Maguire; O Gough, N Corcoran, P Kelly; M O’Brien, J McCaffrey, S Durkan (0-1); L Rushe, A McCrabbe (0-3); C McCormack (0-2), R O’Dwyer (0-2), C Keaney (0-1); D Plunkett (0-1), D O’Callaghan (0-2), P Ryan (1-8, eight frees, one penalty). Subs: S Lambert (0-1) for O’Brien (half time), D Treacy for Plunkett (56 mins), D O’Dwyer for McCormack (60 mins), P Carton (1-0) for McCrabbe (63 mins), D Curtin for Rushe (68 mins). Yellow cards: L Rushe (18 mins), R O’Dwyer (51 mins), J McCaffrey (63 mins), N Corcoran (72 mins).

OFFALY: J Dempsey; M Verney, D Kenny, S Egan; D Hayden (0-1), E Murphy, D Morkan; D Currams (0-1), B Carroll; C Mahon (0-1), G Healion, C Egan (0-1); S Dooley (1-13, 11 frees), J Bergin (0-3), D Molloy. Subs: C Parlon for Carroll (11 mins), J Mulrooney for Egan (56 mins). Yellow cards: J Dempsey (3 mins), S Dooley (19 mins), C Mahon (20 mins), D Hayden (51 mins), E Murphy (51 mins), D Molloy (58 mins, 59 mins). Red card: D Molloy (59 mins).

Referee: J Sexton (Cork)