Dublin warm to the task to secure semi-final spot

Second-half scoring spree leaves Down at risk of the drop


The warmly radiant face of Jim Gavin – the kind you see on a mountaineer after returning from an icy summit – could be explained by a number of relieving moments from Croke Park on Saturday night.

That, firstly, his Dublin team are already booked into the semi-finals of the Allianz Football League, no matter what happens in their last game against All-Ireland champions Donegal; or that they hit Down with 1-10 in the second half, newcomer Paul Mannion leading the way; or perhaps just the natural glow that comes with being back indoors from the icy north wind which cut through flesh and bone here all night.

Whatever, Gavin’s look of content wasn’t going to be exaggerated by the words that followed: “performance, consistency” has been his message all along, and that didn’t change here, even if Dublin’s second half display – when they also limited Down to just two points – was as good as anything so far this season, even in the absence of Bernard Brogan for the second week.

“The two points, really, was the main objective,” said the Dublin manager, “and also to build on our performances, and consistency. That was a little patchy again there, but I think we showed good patience, in the first half. There was a very strong breeze. We created lots of opportunities, maybe converted only 50 per cent of those. Missed some frees as well. We had chat about that at half time, came out and created the same opportunities, this time up over 70 per cent (converted). So that is pleasing, a positive.”

Dublin did take a while to warm to the game. Before an officially frozen attendance of 10,825 – a sizeable drop in the average attendance of the Spring Series – they found Down’s defensive tactics a little awkward, and in fact it took them 28 minutes to score from play, when Bryan Cullen finished off a nice one-two with Diarmuid Connolly. Down started well, racing into a four point lead in the first 12 minutes, as Mark Poland struck twice, with a big point too from midfielder Kevin McKernan, but then they went 15 minutes without a score, hold on to a 0-7 to 0-5 lead at the half time – by which stage Dublin had also hit eight wides.

But Connolly was one of several Dublin players to raise his game in the second half, along with Kevin McManamon (his goal on 49 minutes set up by Michael Darragh Macauley) although none more noticeably that Mannion, the Kilmacud Crokes forward finished with five points, three from play, and also landing himself one great goal chance which forced one of many excellent saves from Brendan McVeigh.

“Well, he (Paul) had a fantastic Dublin club championship, with Kilmacud Crokes,” noted Gavin. “He showed great form there, and it’s good to see him carry that on with a Dublin jersey on his back.”

Mannion helped steer Dublin into some impressive momentum as the game closed out, Down’s attack falling apart, their blanketing defence also running out of cover. Macauley gave Dublin further dominance around midfield, when coming in for Denis Bastick, and they finished up in cruise control, Down’s collapse towards the end almost certainly resigning them to the drop to division two.

Gavin, however, won’t be remapping Dublin’s spring, even with a first league title since 1983 clearly within reach: “Not one little bit. We’re on a training programme, to take us up to the first of June, and we’ll be sticking to that. It’s always a game-by-game stage process in the league. There’s a round of Dublin championship games the week of the semi-finals, and that’s going to go ahead. So this is bonus territory, really. We won’t be changing our plans at all.”

Nor was goalkeeper and captain Stephen Cluxton overly excited about the prospect of a league title: “When I look back on my career of course I’d love to have won as many medals as possible, but right now I can only look after what happens on a day to day basis, make sure I stay fit, play as well as I can for the team.”

Down manager James McCartan didn’t appear for any post-match comment, perhaps still numbed by the apathy of their second half performance, the reality now of relegation, or perhaps just still numbed by the cold.

On a parting note, Gavin did give two more thumbs up to the black card proposals of the Football Review Committee (FRC), passed by Congress earlier in the day: “I’ve always endorsed the FRC’s work, said as well it was up to the county boards, to put it forward whatever way they felt. But it’s good to see the clubs and counties have supported it, which obviously I agree with.”

DUBLIN: S Cluxton (0-1, a 45); D Daly, J Cooper, K O’Brien; J McCaffrey, G Brennan, N Devereux (0-1); C O’Sullivan (0-1), D Bastick; D Connolly (0-4, three frees), B Cullen (0-1), C Dias; K McManamon (1-0); P Mannion (0-5, two frees), P Andrews (0-2, one free). Subs: MD Macauley for Bastick (23 min), S Carthy for Dias (47 mins), C McGuckian for Daly (52 mins), P Ryan for Connolly (61 mins), K Nolan for McCaffrey (65 mins).

DOWN: B McVeigh; D Rooney, B McArdle (0-1), R Boyle; D Turley, K Quinn, D O’Hagan; P Turley, K McKernan (0-1); C Laverty, M Poland (0-2, one free), P McComiskey (0-1); D O’Hare (0-3, two frees), A McConville, B Coulter. Subs: C Harrison for McConville (31 mins), D McKibbon for Turley (49 mins), D Savage (0-1) for Poland (55 mins), R Kelly for O’Hare (59 mins).

Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)