Dublin prove they can play away
For the second time in 12 months Dublin and Galway served up a cracking Church & General National Football League fixture. How Dublin managed to finesse the points will long be a matter of wonder, but they deserved something from a match which they contested doggedly for 70 minutes, despite frequently looking second-best.
The central drama in Tuam Stadium unfolded before around 4,000 spectators over the closing five minutes. In the 66th, Niall Finnegan was brought down by Dublin goalkeeper David Byrne and referee Niall Barrett awarded a penalty. Galway captain Padraig Joyce, who had seen a similar first-half effort well saved by Byrne, the second time around decided to take a point.
At that stage, Galway led by two points and taking the point looked the sensible course of action as the home side had momentum and had outscored Dublin by four points to one in the minutes leading up to the penalty.
Instead of pulling away, however, Galway relaxed, Dublin took back a point and were driven as only a team facing a two-point deficit in the finale can be. A penetrating break by Keith Galvin created the chance for Ciaran Whelan and the prolific midfielder finished to the net.
Substitute John Donnellan nearly equalised in the time remaining but his shot drifted wide.
Dublin manager Tom Carr felt that a draw wouldn't have been unsatisfactory from their perspective, but the win was significant both in terms of the divisional table and the team's awful away record this league.
"Psychologically it was good that we put the away record straight," he said. "It's not that relevant, because we have Cork at home in the next game and if we go on, the semi-finals and final are in Croke Park and the championship matches will be as well. But we made it matter, although practically it didn't."
One of the most heartening aspects of the match for Carr was the commitment shown by the Na Fianna players, only 24 hours after the terrible disappointment of losing the All-Ireland club final to Crossmaglen. Dessie Farrell in particular made a big impression after being introduced early in the match.
"From my point of view," said Carr, "it was very impressive. Dessie rang me on Friday night and said he wanted to play and that the others (Senan Connell and Jason Sherlock) wanted to travel as well. This gave us a great impetus in the dressing-room.
"I hadn't thought we'd get more than about 20 minutes out of Dessie, but as soon as Enda (Sheehy) had to go off, there was no real question about who'd replace him. Dessie gave us a focal point for ball going in and this was a great help to Ian Robertson, who's still finding his feet (after a long injury lay-off)."
There was other good news for Carr in attack. Declan Darcy had one of his high-yield days with seven points - including four from play - and Colin Moran was again effective for his 1-2, including the goal which turned the match in the 28th minute.
Galway were playing some fine attacking football and led by three, 0-8 to 0-5. It probably should have been more and would have been but for the 22nd-minute penalty save. Then a dropping ball from Robertson on the right was tipped to the net by Moran as Martin McNamara came out too far for the cross.
Having snatched this improbable equaliser, Dublin never lost conviction although Galway again looked like moving into a winning position in the final quarter.
It wasn't all positive for Carr, though. Centrefield battled, but the combination of Jason Ward and Jonathan Magee - Whelan started on the 40 - was a bit short on inspiration. Brian Stynes's withdrawal before the throw-in didn't help, but exploiting Whelan's athleticism without losing his scoring potential is a conundrum Dublin have to solve in the long term. Defence is a more pressing problem. Neither Ian Clarke - a late call-up for the injured Declan Conlon - nor Keith Galvin could be termed first-choice corner backs, and this was brought home forcibly on Saturday.
Clarke suffered an early roasting from Finnegan (who had bagged three points by the 13th minute), though he recovered to some extent. But Galvin's travails were more enduring.
Derek Savage was in hot form for Galway. He scored three points, was fouled for six converted frees and earned Galway's first penalty.
How Galvin survived on a diet of fouling his man continually until the 37th minute brought a booking was a mystery, thrown into stark relief by referee Barrett's more stringent decision to book Peadar Andrews for his second foul on Savage after being moved back into the corner.
Paddy Christie was again reliable at full back, but the corners require attention before the championship. Paul Curran had one of his best matches of recent years at wing back.
Admittedly, he was assisted by Shay Walsh drifting all over the shop rather than trying to exert pressure on Curran defensively. Galway's eventual switch of Joe Bergin to the wing with Jarlath Fallon going to centrefield made some difference, but Curran was in sparkling form.
O'Mahony will be aware that the continuing absence of his prodigals, Tomas Mannion and Michael Donnellan, was fairly noticeable on Saturday. The easy concession of scores underlined the importance of Mannion's ability to put iron into the full back line, whereas the half forwards lacked the explosive danger posed by Donnellan.
His absence increases the load on Fallon, who was further distracted by Kevin Walsh's injury-enforced absence creating the need for him to help out at centrefield as well. Tetchy throughout the match, Fallon even ended up in an unedifying row with team-mate Sean O Domhnaill over who should take a secondhalf free.
In general, though, Galway showed well in attack and moved the ball well. At the back, Declan Meehan's introduction at wing back sparked what looked like the decisive move by Galway in the final quarter and he will challenge strongly for that berth over the summer.
Dublin: D Byrne; I Clarke, P Christie, K Galvin; P Curran (0-2), S Ryan, P Andrews; J Ward, J Magee; E Sheehy, C Whelan (1-1), C Moran (1-2); J Gavin (0-3, two frees), I Robertson, D Darcy (0-7, three frees). Subs: D Farrell for Sheehy (14 mins); S Connell for Ward (69 mins).
Galway: M McNamara; T Meehan, G Fahy, R Fahy; E Daly, J Divilly, S de Paor; S O Domhnaill, J Bergin (0-1); P Clancy (0-1), J Fallon (0-1), S Walsh; D Savage (0-3), P Joyce (0-9, eight frees and one penalty), N Finnegan (0-4, one free). Subs: J Donnellan (0-1) for Walsh (44 mins); D Meehan for Daly (53 mins); D Mitchell for Fahy (73 mins).
Referee: N Barrett (Cork).