Galway pushed aside by Dublin’s relentless pursuit of excellence
No clouds in Dubs’ blue sky as hungry reigning champions look untouchable
Cian O’Sullivan of Dublin and Damien Comer of Galway. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Dublin 1-24, Galway 2-12
Deep into the 74th minute, the All-Ireland champions were still lost in their quest for self-improvement. They don’t know how to stop. Two shots – an attempted goal and an attempted point – rapped against Ruairi Lavelle’s crossbar in the space of 20 seconds. The Galway collective were out on their feet. The shooters were Paul Flynn and Kevin McManamon, two of the most decorated foot soldiers in this golden era for the city game. Both men were given minutes long after the tension had evaporated from the evening and they responded with the eagerness of debutants. They hit 0-3 between them, clearly ravenous to impress despite their reduced roles. Perhaps the most dismaying thing for all would-be contenders is not that Dublin are better than everyone else now that just one game stands between them and a fourth consecutive title. It is that they would appear to be hungrier also.
“Yeah, they are great leaders,” acknowledged Jim Gavin afterwards of his senior players. “Their dedication and determination to play with Dublin is infectious. That is what those players do in squad sessions or in team meetings. They leave their mark. And we are lucky to have them.”
Dublin’s on-field performances have been a story of tactical evolution and startling debut seasons. But perpetuating the hunger and humility that courses through the team may be Gavin’s greatest feat.
Galway have been the fresh face of this football season, reclaiming the county’s traditional pre-eminence through an impressive league season. They lived with Dublin for a half here, displayed flashes of true class, breached Stephen Cluxton’s goal twice and were just three points down going into the last half hour.
The official statistics chart has them creating 22 chances from play. But how many of those scoring opportunities didn’t involve intense defensive pressure from the sky blue shirts? Dublin man-marked Galway’s creative team, and while Ian Burke flourished through what was a mesmerising first-half play, they were slowly but surely reduced to shooting from greater distance and tougher angles, their decreasing options symbolised by an impossible point fired by Damien Comer when the day was all but done.
Their flow of scores slowed to a trickle in the second half, while Dublin, responding to the fabulous work rate and energy set by Jack McCaffrey, eased into a higher gear. Con O’Callaghan (1-3) and Paul Mannion (0-5) shook off their scorer’s block, and the bench chipped in with 0-5.
Cian O’Sullivan limped off with a hamstring injury and Michael Fitzsimons replaced him for a second half in which Dublin defenders swamped Comer, who had been a thorn in their side. In the first 30 minutes Galway had worried the Dublin full-back line.
Their first goal, after eight minutes, was a product of the Annaghdown training field, with Ciarán Duggan floating a perfectly weighted long ball, for which Comer outjumped two defenders and the advancing Cluxton to fist home. Comer had another shot on goal from the resulting kick-out, and just three minutes later he was charging towards goal again, winning a penalty when Jonny Cooper and O’Sullivan were forced to drag him down.
Crucially, Cluxton got a hand to Eamonn Brannigan’s penalty. Even then, there was a sense that Galway had to make everything count if they were to truly storm the citadel. Instead, the game just drifted beyond their reach.
McCaffrey was freakishly impressive, thieving two Galway kick-outs, flat-footing the Galway full-back line with a pass to Niall Scully that led to Con O’Callaghan’s 27th-minute goal and swallowing up a dangerous ball in front of his own goal early in the second half as Dublin began to dictate terms.
But for a brief slump in free-taking accuracy from Dean Rock and a late, unorthodox consolation goal from Shane Walsh, the scoreline might have made for tougher reading. It was a quiet end to an encouraging year for Kevin Walsh’s team, with just 54,717 in the stadium for this semi-final. It was the most sparsely attended semi-final featuring Dublin in 23 years. Perhaps, like Kerry, some of the fans are electing to travel only for the final. Those who did show up left reassured that there was little sign of any clouds in their blue sky.
“It looks that way at the minute,” the Galway manager said when asked if Dublin were just a different proposition to the rest.
“They are highly experienced and have a huge panel. It is up to ourselves and everyone else to close the gap. As I said to the boys you never know who is in the dressing room next year. Things change all the time.”
In general that is true. The only unchanging aspect of this period of Gaelic football is the relentless pursuit of excellence by a Dublin team that dates back to 2011. Only three players who started yesterday – Cluxton, James McCarthy and O’Sullivan – also started the 2011 final, which revived Dublin as an All-Ireland winning force. Nine of yesterday’s starting side also started in the 2015 final. The “team” is steadily shape-shifting into a brand new side but the outcome has remained the same. They look untouchable.
DUBLIN: 1 S Cluxton; 24 E Murchan, 3 C O’Sullivan, 4 P McMahon, 5 J Cooper, 26 J Small, 7 McCaffrey; 8 B Fenton (0-2), 6 J McCarthy; 10 N Scully, 11 C Kilkenny (0-3), 12 B Howard (0-1); 13 C O’Callaghan (1-3), 14 D Rock (0-5, 4 frees), 15 P Mannion (0-4). Subs:2 M Fitzsimons for 3 C O’Sullivan (28 mins inj.), 19 C Costello (0-3 1 free) for 10 N Scully ( 44 mins), 23 K McManamon (0-2) for 14 D Rock (57 mins), 9 MD Macauley for 24 E Murchan (58 mins), 20 D Daly for 26 J Small (66 mins), 21 P Flynn (0-1) for 7 J McCaffrey (68 mins).
GALWAY: 1 R Lavelle, 3 SA O’Ceallaigh, 2 D Kyne, 4 E Kerin; 5 C Sweeney, 6 G Bradshaw, 22 J Heaney (0-1); 21 C Duggan, 9 T Flynn (0-1); 10 S Walsh (1-5, 0-3 frees), 17 S Armstrong, 12 S Kelly; 13 I Burke (0-2), 14 D Comer (1-1), 15 E Brannigan. Subs: 19 M Daly (0-1) for 17 S Armstrong (46 mins), 8 P Cooke for 15 E Brannigan (51 mins), 7 G O’Donnell (0-1) for 5 P Sweeney (56 mins), 25 A Varley for 22 J Heaney (61 mins), 23 K Molloy for 4 E Kerin (65 mins), 20 J Duane for 6 G Bradshaw (67 mins inj).
Referee: B Cassidy (Dublin).
First half: 1-9
Second half: 0-15
From play: 1-19
Frees conceded: 11
Yellow cards: 1
Red cards. 0
Black cards. 0
First half: 1-7
Second half: 1-5
From play: 2-9
Frees conceded: 16
Yellow cards: 3
Red cards: 0
Black cards: 0