Brian Howard puts county before college to help Dublin’s cause
Scully and Basquel impress in attack as Gavin’s men withstand Donegal comeback
Dublin’s Brian Howard tracks Donegal’s Ciarán Thompson during Saturday night’s Allianz Football League Division One clash at Croke Park. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho
Dublin 0-20 Donegal 0-15
Oftentimes, in mid-February, managers are either lamenting the absence of players or else defending their inclusion. Either way Jim Gavin insists it’s nothing to do with him.
Last Tuesday, Dublin forward Brian Howard opted not to play for his college, DIT, in their Sigerson Cup quarter-final against Tralee IT (which DIT won, by 16 points).
Instead, having started in Dublin’s opening two wins over Kildare and Tyrone, Howard wanted to give himself every chance of starting again in Saturday’s night showdown against Donegal at Croke Park.
Which he did – the young Raheny forward scoring one point and setting up several more in Dublin’s hard-earned five-point win. The question of whether Howard was putting his county before his college (where he’s on a GAA scholarship) was put to Gavin afterwards, or rather diverted back to Howard himself.
“I’ve always said to the players that their life is defined by the choices they make,” said the Dublin manager, “whether that be professionally, academically, or sport. I have a dressing-room of grown men, and they simply make their decisions based on what is best for their professional, academic or sporting careers. Simple as that.”
Part of the problem, added Gavin, is the old calendar chestnut; the Sigerson Cup should be given its own time and space, not during the “sprint” that is the Allianz Football League.
“This is probably my 11th January, February season, being with the under-21’s before, and the same issues come up every January and February about Sigerson and Fitzgibbon and Trench Cup. I am still surprised we’re playing league games on the last week of January.
“It [the Sigerson Cup] is a very important competition. I’d be an advocate of it for a long time. It’s a great social experience for players, to mix with players from different counties, to be on the road with each other. They’re only young once, and they need to be given the space to enjoy it.
“It can’t be played before Christmas, because that’s exam time. It’s simply a matter of pushing back the National Football League games and the hurling. It’s a simple solution. But I don’t think anybody is listening.
“In the National league, we’re all guaranteed seven games, and we sprint through them. Then we’re all guaranteed just two games during the summer. It just doesn’t make sense. Maybe someday by accident we’ll fall into a good system.”
Dublin’s winning system, meanwhile, shows no sign of abating. In the end it wasn’t the slow steamrolling over their opening two opponents, but still Dublin are taking care of business in their own dominating and suffocating way.
Donegal came to Croke Park desperate for their first win of the 2018 league. That didn’t show in the first half although, inspired by Paddy McBrearty, they fought hard to try salvage something in the second half, twice bringing Dublin back to a point. Crucially, it seemed, they couldn’t hit Dublin with the equalising score.
Instead, Dublin hit them with the last four points without reply, to win by five – with Paul Mannion and substitutes Eoghan O’Gara, Ciarán Reddin and Paddy Small closing out the deal.
“I think you have to be happy with the way the guys responded to that challenge,” said Gavin. “Donegal had impressed me in their opening two games, and I thought they put in a big shift again tonight. It was no surprise to me that they were so close going into the last quarter, brought it back to a point.
“But I think what’s pleasing from our point of view is the team effort, the collective willingness to work together, and keep them scoreless for the maybe the last 10, 15 minutes or so. And for us to get those last four scores showed great determination.
Down five points at the break, Donegal had closed it to the minimum on 52 minutes – Stephen McBrearty’s long-range point, followed promptly by two more from his brother Paddy, leaving it 0-14 to 0-13. And they closed it back again, as late as 62 minutes, Paddy McBrearty hitting what was his sixth of the night, his third from play.
Donegal, the last team to beat Dublin in the championship, in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final, strangely stood off their opponents for much of the first half. Davy Byrne certainly kept the shackles on McBrearty for the first half
Colm Basquel also got on barrels of ball, helping himself to 0-4, and might well have helped himself to a goal or two. All played out before a headquarters crowd of 21,469.
Up by six points at the break, 0-11 to 0-5, Dublin’s opening half spread of 11 points included four from play from Niall Scully.
Michael Murphy was a late addition to the Donegal panel, even though still coming off the rehab period from a groin injury: he came in on 56 minutes, kicked his first free wide, and kicked another two wide before the end. That didn’t do Donegal’s rallying spirit much good.
Donegal, meanwhile already with back-to-back defeats to Kerry and Galway, stay hovering over the trapdoor: “Thanks for reminding me,” said manager Declan Bonnar. “Disappointed, absolutely. We had our chances here, in the second half. We battled really hard to came back, after maybe sitting back from Dublin in the first half, and the second half has to be positive. But we’ve no points, no. That’s the bottom line.”
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; D Byrne, P McMahon, E Lowndes (0-1); J Cooper, J McCarthy, J Small; B Fenton (0-2), MD Macauley; B Howard (0-1), C Kilkenny (0-2), N Scully (0-4); C Basquel (0-4, one free), P Mannion (0-2, one free), P Andrews (0-1). Subs: E O’Gara (0-1) for Andrews, C O’Sullivan for McMahon (both 46 mins), D Rock for Macauley (65 mins), C Reddin (0-1) for Scully (73 mins), P Small (0-1) for Basquel (both 73 mins)
DONEGAL: P Boyle; E Doherty, C Ward, E Ban Gallagher; R McHugh (0-2), L McCloone (0-1), T McClenaghan; N Mullins, H McFadden; M McHugh (0-1), S McBrearty (0-2), C Thompson; P McBrearty (0-7, three frees), O Mac Niallais, J Brennan (0-2). Subs: C McGonigle for Mullins (27 mins), N O’Donnell for Thompson (43 mins), M Murphy for Mac Niallais (54 mins), C McGinley for M McHugh (66 mins, M O’Reilly for S McBrearty (69 mins), P Brennam for R McHugh (71 mins).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)