Dublin open up the engine and leave Galway standing still

Jim Gavin sees improvement as defending champions secure first win of campaign

Galway goalkeeper Mághnus Breathnach challenges Dublin’s Dean Rock during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho

Dublin 1-15 Galway 0-7

By way of minor consolation Galway manager Kevin Walsh suggested he wouldn’t be reading too deeply into a result like this. Nor, he reckoned, would Dublin. He’s right about that much.

Because it’s all right there above the surface, Dublin celebrating Groundhog Day with a perfectly clear forecast of the season to come, at the same time putting Galway back on familiar terrain.

Slowly, surely and then as if perfectly calculated, Jim Gavin’s team wore Galway down, just like they did in the All-Ireland semi-final last August, and the league final last April, this time with 11 handy points to spare.


“It’s really about from our own side,” added Walsh, “seeing what we do well as a group and what’s to be improved on, and seeing can one or two players step up and challenge.” The problem with that being Galway looked like the same old Galway.

Dublin’s Paul Mannion in action against Eoghan Kerin of Galway during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho

Try as they did to contain their opposition in the first half by crowding their defence, that tactic was eventually exposed as Dublin broke through with a goal from Dean Rock on 56 minutes, a series of spectacular points from Cormac Costello, plus a few security scores from Paul Mannion and Niall Scully. Dublin’s enthusiasm for such games like this never grows.

It all had that casual, predictable feel about it too, played before an attendance of 14,502, one the lowest turnouts in the recent history of the Spring Series. Dublin had never lost two consecutive league games under Gavin since he took charge in 2013, and never looked like losing this.

Gavin suggested that “maybe fitness told a little bit” in their opening defeat to Monaghan last Sunday: the telling here was the opposite, Dublin raising flight in the last 20 minutes despite their still limited preparations.

“We’re just three weeks back, today,” he added. “In some ways we are just getting into pre-season if you will, so to get two points on the board is important. We actually did very little this week, so there was a bit of freshness in the legs today.

“And we tightened that up in the second half, we had some great movement and kept that level up. We showed some great defending, some great team play and team scores. That first half, that won’t be good enough in Tralee next Saturday [against Kerry], but we take that game in isolation as well. This does certainly give us something to build on now, which is good.

“It’s our first competition of the season, we want to do well in it, and we can only do well by getting the performances in games. That’s what we looked for tonight and in patches we got it. But it does certainly give us something to build on now, which is good.”

Gavin made the obligatory late changes, giving first senior Dublin starts to Liam Flatman and Seán Bugler; Ryan Basquel, brother of Colm, also got his first start at corner forward (later replaced by Brian Howard), and Darren Gavin, son of Galway 1998 All-Ireland winner Fergal Gavin, also got a taste for the big stage – that Dublin well still producing clean.

“Where we can, yeah, we’ll try to give players a chance to stake a claim to a championship spot,” said Gavin. “They’ve all played really well with their clubs during the championship and that’s obviously what caught our attention.”

Costello, a little muted last Saturday, forced his way into the game, kicking two sweet points in succession on 54 minutes; finishing with 0-6 (one mark), and a man-of-the-match award. Rock’s goal came as he latched onto a high ball sent in by substitute Paul Flynn and bang – just like that, it seemed, Dublin were up 1-11 to 0-6, and no way back for Galway. Not with Jonny Cooper mopping up so much ball Brian Fenton again lording midfield.

Galway had found a little more space in the opening quarter, hitting two opening points inside 10 minutes, first Cillian McDaid, then Peter Cooke. Damien Comer, injured playing a charity match over Christmas, is still a notable absentee up front for Galway, but still Walsh wasn’t happy.

“We were still well in the game at 0-9 to 0-6, but had 12 kicked turnovers in the second half, which is just unacceptable. Allowing Dublin counter-attack by kicking away so many stupid balls is going to put you under pressure. I’d be very unhappy with that, and also there was a stage when the goal went in, the reaction to that wouldn’t have been that pleasing. We allowed them fetch a lot of ball in the air as well without contesting properly.

“We’ll take the learnings from this. It’s important that we look and say, ‘What did we do well and what did we do poorly?’ When the goal went in I have to say we wouldn’t be happy that maybe defeat was accepted at that time. Maybe fatigue kicked in a bit, as I said we haven’t as much work done, and losing Cillian McDaid at half-time was a big loss.”

DUBLIN: 1 E Comerford; 2 E Lowndes, 3 M Fitzsimons, 21 L Flatman; 4 E Murchan, 6 J Cooper, 7 J Small; 5 J McCarthy, 8 B Fenton; 12 N Scully (0-1, mark), 11 C Costello (0-6, one mark), 19 S Bugler (0-1); 15 R Basquel, 14 D Rock (1-5, three frees), 13 P Mannion (0-2).

Subs: 10 B Howard for Basquel (48 mins), 22 P Flynn for Bugler (54), 18 J McCaffrey for Small, D Gavin for McCarthy (both 60), 24 C McHugh for Mannion (65).

GALWAY: 1 M Breathnach; 6 G Bradshaw, 7 S Kelly, 2 E Kerin; 5 G O'Donnell, 3 S A O Ceallaigh, 12 J Heaney (0-1); 8 K Duggan, 9 T Flynn; 10 C McDaid (0-2), 23 J Duane, 11 P Cooke (0-2); 13 P Cunningham, 22 Cein D'Arcy, 14 S Walsh (0-1, free).

Subs: 15 B McHugh (0-1, free) for McDaid (h/t), 21 D Cummins for Cunningham, F Cooney for D'Arcy (both 60 mins), 17 G Armstrong for Cooke (62), D Cunnane for O Ceallaigh (66).

Referee: Ciarán Branagan (Down).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics