Talking Points: Seán Moran breaks down Dublin’s win over Galway
Sean Moran reflects upon Dublin's semi-final win over Galway and where it leaves both
Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey celebrates with Brian Howard during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Galway at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
In Jim Gavin’s 38 championship matches as Dublin manager, he rarely stays content with what he’s seen. Allowing that injuries sometimes have a bearing, on only four occasions the same team been named for successive fixtures. Technically this wasn’t one of them, as the final quarter-final round against Roscommon saw a predominantly second 15 getting a run, but the team that lined out on Saturday was the same as had started the key Group 2 fixture, against the other qualifiers, Tyrone, which suggests that there is a first 15.
This gets disguised by all the dummy selections and players with jerseys numbered in the 20s, but for instance Eoin Murchan, who only debuted against Donegal in the first Super 8 match, has now started the three most significant matches at the All-Ireland stage.
As a designated man marker, he has been assigned to Ryan McHugh, Niall Sludden but on Saturday, Ian Burke, turned out to be the hardest to rein in and it took the arrival of Michael Fitzsimons to restore order after a third-quarter switch.
Back to front
The rest afforded to nearly all of the semi-final starters when given the Roscommon match off appears to have paid off for two of the forward All Stars, Con O’Callaghan and Paul Mannion. In their absence Cormac Costello’s 0-9, six from play by the 44th minute, created a certain pressure as neither had been prolific in the Super 8s.
Of course the emphasis on covering back in Omagh was exhausting for both – Mannion at one stage being the last line of defence he had dropped so deep and his hand-in tackle on Cathal McShane prevented an unopposed run on goal.
O’Callaghan was similarly busy on that night in tracking back.
But there was equally a drying up of the scoring returns in that both players were kept scoreless not just against Tyrone but also in the first quarter-final against Donegal.
Normal service was resumed on Saturday with O’Callaghan adding to the goals he got in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and final in a tally of 1-3 with no misses. Mannion kicked a couple of wides but finished as second-top scorer from play with 0-4.
A good start is still only a start
For the second time in succession at Croke Park, Galway captain Damien Comer caused fox-in-henhouse panic in the Dublin defence, re-awakening those nagging reservations about the full-back line under a high ball that have flitted across people’s minds since Rory O’Carroll departed at the end of 2015.
As in the league final, his ball-winning ability and snow-plough attitude to would-be tacklers was a bright spot for the Connacht champions. This time, he scored a classic, and these times rare enough, fisted goal under the dropping ball and despite the attendance of two defenders and Stephen Cluxton.
A couple of minutes later he won a penalty after being taken down by a combination of Cian O’Sullivan and Jonny Cooper.
Unfortunately for Galway, just as had happened in April, Comer received very little serviceable ball thereafter and although he managed a point from a spectacularly tight angle in front of the Hill in the 66th minute, it was one of only two shots at goal he had for the rest of the match.
Cluxton redeemed himself for his part in the first goal when saving the 12th-minute penalty on Saturday. Coincidentally, it was into the same Canal End goal that Galway’s Liam Sammon took his famous penalty in the 1974 All-Ireland final between the counties – which was saved, also to the goalkeeper’s left, by Paddy Cullen. One difference between the events, 44 years apart, was included in the RTÉ commentary on both. The late Micheál O’Hehir commented before the kick that Sammon had never previously missed a penalty whereas Ger Canning pointed out on Saturday that Eamonn Brannigan, who took on the duty this time, had never scored a goal for Galway.
No second chances
The working assumption tends to be that what happens in the league will have little guaranteed bearing on the championship but at the top level this doesn’t appear to be the case.
Saturday is just the latest example. It was the third meeting of Dublin and Galway after their regulation match and Division 1 final in the spring. The former had been a draw and the latter a tight Dublin victory by four points.
Four months later that margin had more than doubled and it wasn’t simply a function of Dublin’s superiority, as there have been 12 fixtures between Division 1 counties in the championship to date. Only one, last weekend’s Galway-Monaghan match in Salthill has resulted in the league result between the counties being overturned.
The other 10 that have seen no tables turned are: Tyrone-Donegal, Dublin-Tyrone, Dublin-Donegal, Kerry-Kildare, Galway-Kildare, Galway-Kerry, Monaghan-Kildare, Galway-Mayo, Monaghan-Kerry (albeit a championship draw) and Monaghan-Tyrone, whose All-Ireland semi-final is on Sunday.
Maybe a good omen for Monaghan or could it be argued that they used up the credit when beating their neighbours last May in the Ulster quarter-final?
Galway’s glass ceiling
It has on the face of it been a good year for Galway up until the last eight days: unbeaten in Division 1 until the final when they were competitive against Dublin, a Connacht title, first championship win over Kerry in 53 years and qualifying a match early for a first All-Ireland semi-final since 2001.
On the other hand, it is the fifth successive year that they have lost by a heavy margin in their first knock-out championship match in Croke Park. Since 2014, Galway have reached in successive years an All-Ireland quarter-final, final qualifier, two more quarter-finals and this time, a semi-final.
The sequence of defeats is dispiriting: Kerry (seven points), Donegal (10), Tipperary (9), Kerry (8) and Dublin (9).