Dublin are the last ever Under-21 football champions

Favourites Galway mount late rally but are unable to claw back big deficit

Dublin 2-13 Galway 2-7

The terrific team display which saw Dublin's under-21s capture the last All-Ireland at the grade came as vindication for manager Dessie Farrell and the half a dozen or so players who had come out on the wrong side of one-score margins at the end of semi-finals in the last two years of the Eirgrid GAA championship before 7,557 at O'Connor Park.

A controlled performance that more effectively harnessed a difficult wind and largely negated favourites Galway in their strongest areas did with five minutes left threaten to slip into malfunction when an apparently safe eight-point lead nearly evaporated.

The Connacht champions overcame a disappointing display, particularly in the third quarter, to engineer a well-taken goal by Cillian McDaid in the 50th minute and his fellow wing back Kieran Molloy - both of whom doggedly pressed forward even when the match was getting away from Galway - followed with a point to leave the score at 1-9 to 1-5.


Crisis point for Dublin came in the 55th and 56th minutes when in quick succession their opponents hit the post - raiding corner back Ruiarí Greene reacting smartly to break in the square - and replacement Antaine Ó Laoi skewing a kickable free.

The winners closed the book on the contest by sweeping back up field from the kick-out and Colm Basquel capped an energetic and effective performance by springing the Galway defence open with a hand pass that sent in Aaron Byrne for the goal that settled it, at 2-10 to 1-6.

There was further drama in injury-time, as another Galway replacement, Colm Brennan, scrambled a second goal and at the end Dublin corner back Darren Byrne was taken down by Pádraic Ó Curraoin as he rounded the goalkeeper and Con O’Callaghan pointed the penalty to finish the final and capture the Clarke Cup.

O’Callaghan had been really well marked by the impressive Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh (“as good a display as I ever saw in a Gaelic jersey anywhere in the country,” according to his manager Gerry Fahy) but the prodigious Cuala forward still finished with 1-1 from play - the goal signing off on good approach work by Tom Fox and Aaron Byrne - and after his starring role in the club hurling championship has now won two All-Ireland medals in seven weeks.

His goal was a centrepiece of a decisive 1-4 without reply rifled in after half-time and which left Galway, hugely impressive in their dismantling of Kerry in the semi-final, with too much to do.

“We created a lot of chances in the first-half,” he said afterwards, “which we didn’t really execute but in the second-half, we were finishing those chances.”

That was a fair summary of a first half when Dublin had possession and territory but only a one-point lead at the break, 0-5 to 0-4. There had been goal chances for Basquel and Aaron Byrne but poor finishing and a good save by Ronán Ó Beoláin shut them out.

A large part of Dublin’s advantage came from centrefield where despite the13th-minute departure of the injured Andrew Foley, Brian Howard reprised his fine display from the semi-final against Donegal - tireless work, winning primary possession, including the mark that led to the first goal and bombing over a fine point during the rampant third quarter - and beside him Darren Gavin was given the TG4 Man of the Match award. Subduing their opponents’ powerful unit was a critical factor in the outcome.

The team’s well-organised defence, with Cillian O’Shea playing a vigilant sweeping role, made scores excruciatingly difficult for a Galway team that had blitzed championship favourites Kerry with 1-7 in the opening 10 minutes of the semi-final.

In particular Eoin Murchan gave another outstanding display as man marker on opposing captain and danger man Michael Daly.

In attack five of the starting forwards scored from play and at various times, Basquel, Glenn O’Reilly and Dan O’Brien chipped in valuable points.

Farrell announced afterward that he would be stepping back from management having guided the group from its earliest development panel days and wouldn’t be taking charge of the county’s first campaign in the new under-20 grade next season.

He goes with three All-Ireland titles - one minor and two under-21 plus a catalogue of close finishes - but appeared to rule himself out of the senior job when current manager Jim Gavin’s term is up later this year.

“Yeah. I don’t think so. My roots have been in the development squad stuff and through to minor and the natural evolution was to take on the 21s. The senior is a whole different ball game. The time commitment that’s required at that level - like this is ridiculous but at senior level it’s gone to a whole new level …”

DUBLIN: 1 Evan Comerford; 2 Darren Byrne, 6 Seán McMahon, 5 Declan Monaghan; 3 Cillian O'Shea (joint-capt), 4 Eoin Murchan, 7 Cian Murphy; 8 Andrew Foley, 9 Brian Howard (0-1); 15 Dan O'Brien (0-2), 12 Glenn O'Reilly (0-3), 11 Aaron Byrne (1-0); 10 Tom Fox, 13 Colm Basquel (0-2), 14 Con O'Callaghan (joint-capt; 1-3, 0-1 free, 0-1 penalty).

Subs: 24 Darren Gavin (0-1) for Foley (13 mins), 19 Darrah Spillane for Fox (39 mins), 22 Chris Sallier for O'Reilly (46 mins), 21 Andrew McGowan for McMahon (60 mins), 18 Stephen Smith (0-1) for A Byrne (62 mins).

GALWAY: 1 Ronán Ó Beoláin; 3 Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh, 2 Liam Kelly, 4 Ruiarí Greene; 7 Cillian McDaid (1-1), 6 Dylan McHugh, 5 Kieran Molloy (0-1); 8 Peter Cooke (0-1, free), 9 Cein D'Arcy; 12 Paul Mannion (0-1), 11 Michael Daly (0-1), 10 Seán Kelly; 13 Robert Finnerty, 14 Eoin Finnerty (0-1), 15 Dessie Conneely.

Subs: 20 Colin Brady (0-1) for R Finnerty (half-time), 18 Colm Brennan (1-0) for D'Arcy (37 mins), 22 Michael Boyle for Conneely (39 mins), 23 Eric Lee for S Kelly (44 mins), 21 Antaine Ó Laoi for Mannion (54 mins), 17 Pádraic Ó Curraoin (60 mins).

Referee: Ciarán Branagan (Down).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times