Dublin Prey on Down's discontent
PLENTY to savour at sunny Newcastle yesterday for lovers of novelty. Nothing at stake ultimately, however, in this clash between the All-Ireland champions of the last two years.
Both sides find themselves with a large window in their schedules between now and the championship. On yesterday's evidence, Down need the break more then Dublin. Liable to rollercoaster form, Down show no signs yet of hitting the bottom of this particular trough. They face a Division Three campaign next winter. If they are to have prolonged championship participation in between, some inspiration had better arrive soon.
Strange to relate, but that isn't out of the question. Down were abysmal yesterday, yet a flash of their old style brought them a goal and a point in the space of a minute late in the first half. Thus they went into the break just a point adrift. Their ill-deserved proximity to Dublin failed to stir them, however.
They have problems, but not many of them are insurmountable. Morale is low, but it has been that way through many winters in this neck of the woods. Indeed, Down seem to need winter adversity if they are to galvanise in the summer.
Dublin went to Newcastle as a team just stretching the limbs and looking at the year ahead.
Charlie Redmond, who appears to have wintered very well in terms of controlling his weight and retaining his appetite, had a hand in several of the early scores as Dublin took a five-point lead before Down scored.
Mickey Whelan, the manager, has set out his stall early on with his announcement that he wants his team to play pure, attacking football. That policy is a gamble, which thus far has paid off.
Changes have been made and old faces have been brought back. In several white-hot championship exchanges in the past few years, Dublin have been badly damaged by opposing right half backs Foley in 1991, McGurk in 1993, and Geraghty in 1994.
As such, Jim Gavin, who worked hard and effectively at keeping his man in check throughout last year's championship, might be a little disturbed to see the old regime of Niall Guiden and Eamon Heery re-established down Dublin's left flank. However, both Heery and Guiden did enough yesterday to justify retention. Gavin turned in a typically diligent display, in more continued circumstances, at corner forward.
The great success of Whelan's tenure, however, has been the form of the full back line. Deprived, sadly, of Dermot Deasy's quiet excellence, Whelan has unearthed a considerable talent in, David Martin of Whitehall Colmcilles. The young DCU student's reading, handling and distribution were excellent yesterday. Outside him, Paddy Christie demonstrated just what a tragedy it was that a broken finger cost him a championship place last year. Ciaran Walsh struggled on Mickey Linden throughout the first half, but Ger Regan did an impeccable job after the break. Regan, Martin and Christie have the potential to, become the championship starting line.
Having helped themselves to the first five points of the game, in the opening quarter, Dublin were a little taken aback to see a badly-taken 45 from Gary Mason enterprisingly fisted, at waist height, to the net by James McCartan after 20 minutes. Within seconds of the kick-out Linden had skint Walsh (not for the first time) and added another point. Five minutes later, Gary Mason added a point from a free out of the hands and the sides were level.
A Redmond free gave Dublin a half-time lead, but the break was pregnant with the promise that Down might come out and make a proper match of it for the second half. Not to be.
Dublin had a goal disallowed early in the second half. Undeterred, they reeled off the next five points to secure the match. In terms of creativity and goal-scoring potential the forwards still appear to need Jason Sherlock's speed and spark. Dessie Farrell's distributive talents seem wasted without him also.
Through this period of Dublin dominance, Down steadfastly refused to compete. Midfield looked heavy and disinterested. Defence looked bedraggled.
Attack looked blunt as Regan and Christie got the better of Linden and McCartan. So it went. A long time 'til summer for two quintessential summer teams.