Relentless Dublin leave Roscommon dazed and confused
If it were boxing, throwing in the white towel would have been the right thing to do
The Roscommon players after the game. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Dublin 2-26 Roscommon 0-14
After 15 minutes, the scoreboard in Croke Park read: Dean Rock 1-5, Roscommon 0-3. If you get on the field with this Dublin team, you’re as well to stay in the mind’s eye - Jim Gavin being the mind in question. Rock was one of three changes announced by Dublin even as the shutters came down on Henry Street.
He returned to the starting 15 along with James McCarthy and Jonny Cooper. The alterations hardly made Roscommon’s task any easier. Rock merely took care of business here, converting the series of early frees that an understandably anxious Roscommon defence coughed up as soon as Paul Mannion and Con O’Callaghan won possession and started to dance. Then, he was in the right place - hanging out in front of goal to convert a sweeping Dublin counter attack from point blank range in the 15th minute.
So he can’t blame himself for not taking his chance having come back in for Cormac Costello. The Hill crowd began to sing a verse of Molly Malone but opted for the abbreviated version as they realised they had a full hour to go of a Super 8s game that already been reduced to shooting practice for the All-Ireland champions.
As expected, the All-Ireland champions journey north to Omagh to play Tyrone with both teams already through to the All-Ireland semi-finals, is now an essentially meaningless game which demands John Lennon’s Mind Games as its theme song.
What a horrible experience this was for the Connacht champions. They found themselves trailing 1-15 to 0-7 when they retired to the dressing room at half-time. The worst of it was that they must have felt they were playing fairly well. They had the guts to go man-to-man against Dublin and they carved out two rare and golden chances which neither Shane Killoran nor Diarmuid Murtagh could convert.
Both those sequences were excellently worked and were perfect advertisements for the other would-be challengers for the Sam Maguire of an unbreakable rule: if you get a chance in front of Cluxton’s goal, you have to bury it.
At the other end, Dublin’s frontline players were having the time of their lives. Ciaran Kilkenny, O’Callaghan and Paul Mannion were bristling with energy and imagination. O’Callaghan rapped a ball off the post in the 21st minute, just seconds before Murtagh’s chance presented itself at the other end. Mannion, too, almost ran a goal through a thicket of yellow shirts as Dublin began to shift into high summer gear, rapacious and score-hungry. That trio had 0-6 from play at half-time, with Jack McCaffrey and Niall Scully opening up the space with their customary hole-punching runs, recycling the ball for the sharp-shooters on the loop.
For the few souls scattered across the upper tier of Croke Park on this pleasant Saturday night, the most striking difference between the two sides was in the upper body strength. For his first point, Mannion was shadowed by three Roscommon players but he simply knifed and then powered through a sliver of space to kick his score unimpeded.
O’Callaghan looks a different specimen than the kid who kicked that goal against Tyrone a couple of seasons ago. Suck defenders in, lay it off to the runner and then find the open man; there’s no secret to what Dublin do but other teams struggle with the pace and power with which they do it.
If this game proved anything, it’s that leaving that Dublin full-forward line without at least two sweepers in play is simply asking for it. Just before half-time, Conor Daly picked up a black card on top on an earlier yellow. Roscommon would be forced to play the second half with 14 men. If it were boxing, then yes, the white towel would have been the right thing to do. But playing Dublin in Croke Park in championship football is probably the most brutal sport there is right now. You have to go 15 rounds plus injury time. Sometimes, you don’t need to get punched in the head to be left reeling.
Nobody could accuse Gavin of being insensitive to the opposition here: he whipped off the leading contenders for man of the match just after half time-albeit after Michael Darragh Macauley landed a haymaker of a goal as Dublin eased into a 2-17 to 0-7 lead.
The evening eased into a polite and diplomatic trading of points. The Rossies kept running and playing through the blue haze. Conor Cox, the find of the year, showed the Kerry man’s comfort with Croke Park, banging over 0-7 while Conor Hussey, in a brilliant performance, kicked 0-3.
But if there was a moment that symbolised the state of the game, it was the Angus Lyons, making his Primrose debut, surrounded by seven blue shirts and relieved off the ball. Jonny Cooper helped him up off the ground as the blue shirts sprinted across the savannah. They led by 2-21 to 0-11 at the time and were growing stronger by the second. The message was clear. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
Dublin: 1 S Cluxton, 19 J Cooper, 4 P McMahon, 2 M Fitzsimons; 5 J McCaffrey (0-1), 22 J McCarthy, 7 J Small; 8 B Fenton (0-2), 9 Mc Macauley (1-0); 10 N Scully (0-1), 13 C Kilkenny (0-2), 12 B Howard; 14 P Mannion (0-3), 23 D Rock (1-11, 10 frees), 15 C O’Callaghan (0-2). Subs: 23 K McManamon (0-1) for 13 C Kilkenny (39 mins), 14 P Mannion for 26 P Small (0-3) (39 mins), 24 R O’Carroll for 2 M Fitzsimons (47 mins), 21 E Lowndes for 5 J McCaffrey (48 mins), 17 P Andrews for 10 C O’Callaghan (51 mins), 3 D Byrne for MD Macauley (63 mins black card),
Roscommon: 1 D O’Malley; 2 D Murray, 3 S Mulloly (0-1); 4 C Daly; 5 N Daly (0-1), 6 C Hussey (0-3); 7 R Daly; 12 N Kilroy; 15 E Smith, 9 S Killoran; 11 C Cregg, 22 C Compton (0-1), 10 B Stack; 13 D Murtagh (0-1), 14 C Cox (0-7, 4 frees). Subs: 19 F Cregg for 9 S Killoran (half-time), 20 A Lyons for 22 C Compton (45 mins), 21 A Glennon for 13 D Murtagh (53 mins), 17 G Patterson for 2 D Murray (60 mins), 24 C McKeon for 12 N Kilroy (66 mins).
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).