Vincent Hogan: O'Dwyer's net gain for Dubs
Dublin 3-13 Limerick 0-18
He'll never be hurling's Don Juan given the game's determination to compromise his looks, but there is still something of a matinee idol about Cashel's Ryan O'Dwyer.
They got there by a helter-skelter route, outstretching a resurgent Limerick to the line after O'Dwyer's hat-trick of first-half goals had briefly spun the illusion that August hurling might be accessible in a gentle stroll.
It wasn't. With 18-year-old Declan Hannon summoning a remarkable performance from centre half-forward for Limerick, the Dubs were forced to go beneath the floorboards of their resolve before securing a shot at All-Ireland champions Tipperary on August 14.
And it was that Tipp man O'Dwyer who nailed the date with his native county, torqueing onto a return from Liam Rushe to score a wonderful 65th-minute point that eased the Dubs three clear after Limerick had spilled three successive wides with the game palpably in their grasp.
Afterwards, his head bandaged from a late skirmish that resulted in him being stretchered to the dressing-room, O'Dwyer laughed off the inconvenience of another date with a doctor's needle.
"A few battle scars, but it's all for show," he chuckled. "I actually don't know what happened. I went to walk off, but was told to sit down. Next thing I remember, I was inside and someone was telling me Dublin had won."
A remarkable year for the Dubs thus extends -- as their manager Anthony Daly put it -- "to the second-last day of the hurling year."
They've got there in spite of a succession of injury mishaps, the latest of which (Friday morning's motorcycle accident) deprived them of the talismanic Conal Keaney. The Ballyboden man sent the team a personal video message on Saturday evening and, having looked at it yesterday morning, O'Dwyer was of the view that it got Dublin "over the line".
Keaney's absence had demanded a dramatic restructuring of Daly's team and, if anything, it was Limerick who made the more authoritative opening.
Brian Geary planted two monster frees and only a wonderful Peter Kelly block on the goal-hungry Kevin Downes prevented Limerick from stretching the margin to five points inside four and a half minutes. But that Kelly intervention resulted in the ball transferring to the Killinan end, where O'Dwyer pounced on a breaking ball for his first goal.
The score settled Dublin and, while Joey Boland visibly had his hands full with the extraordinary Hannon, it was Daly's siting of Alan McCrabbe on the other '40' that seemed to be reaping the biggest dividend.
McCrabbe's mobility had Geary in trouble, and on 12 minutes he materialised on the end of a Maurice O'Brien delivery in the left corner and lasered the most perfect crossfield pass to an unmarked O'Dwyer. The finish, high to Nicky Quaid's net, was sublime.
Another beautiful McCrabbe pass set up O'Dwyer for a 20th-minute point, but Dublin, by now, were seemingly hell-bent on making a mockery of their goal-shy reputation.
Conor McCormack had gone for the jugular seconds earlier, his shot caroming up off the excellent Tom Condon, enabling Quaid to make the save.
"Ye were all telling us we couldn't get goals, but we had the Tipp man in there," said Daly later, laughing. "They (Tipp) are getting goals all year, so we had to borrow a bit of that! Ah Ryan did great. He really stepped up to the plate."
O'Dwyer's third goal came with a little outside assistance, Geary running into traffic and spilling possession. The ball was fed inside to 'Dotsy' O'Callaghan and, when Quaid parried the shot, O'Dwyer arrived at the far post for a rudimentary finish.
It would be Geary's last involvement as he was quickly hauled ashore and Donal O'Grady set about reshaping his team, with corner-forward Graeme Mulcahy redeployed as a defensive sweeper. Seamus Hickey, no doubt happy to step out of O'Dwyer's slipstream, moved to centre-back now and, slowly, rediscovered his mojo.
The surgery stifled Dublin's flow through the middle and, slowly, put a pulse back in Limerick.
Leading by nine points (3-6 to 0-6) after O'Dwyer's third goal, Dublin were outscored 0-7 to 0-0 between the 24th and 40th minutes. There was palpable relief when Paul Ryan stopped the rot with a wonderful right-wing free from deep inside his own half.
Gavin O'Mahony was doing much better on the towering Rushe than Wayne McNamara had managed, while McCrabbe's influence had begun to wane. The intensity was high now and Condon seemed lucky that an intemperate strike on O'Dwyer escaped the referee's attention.
Limerick's use of the ball lacked precision, though, Downes not once getting ball played into the kind of space that makes a full-back uneasy.
That said, Paul Schutte, Peter Kelly and Niall Corcoran hurled outstandingly in the Dublin full-back line and, with Limerick's wides accumulating, it became clear that they probably needed a goal.
Hannon, maybe naively, went for it from distance with 10 minutes remaining, Gary Maguire swatting away the bullet as he might an irksome bluebottle.
Still, Limerick were just two points down with nine minutes of normal time remaining, but their composure had begun to unravel. David Breen, Hannon and Hickey all spilled wides and, in the 66th minute, James Ryan added another.
But just before Ryan's miss, O'Dwyer went barrelling through the middle, offloaded to Rushe, took the return and, falling as he struck the ball, put over what was effectively the match-winning score. "An amazing point," said Daly.
Seconds later, O'Dwyer went to ground with McNamara in what looked an innocuous incident, but one that required his dazed and bloodied removal on a stretcher. No matter, his bit was done.
Shane Ryan's injury-time point made Dublin safe and, by the time Brian Gavin spread his arms, O'Dwyer was already coming around with smelling salts.
Last summer, he'd been invited back onto Tipp's panel after a year's exile but decided to honour a long-standing commitment in Boston instead.
So he stood on the Hill last September when they won the MacCarthy Cup. Now he'll meet them toe to toe on the pitch. The road keeps stretching onward and upward for Dublin then.
"Yerrah, Tipp looked like a machine the last day," sighed Daly, tossing a net on the rising giddiness. "They go through the gears unbelievably. The top two seem to be ahead of the posse, you'd have to say.
"But, look, we'll have a creamy one tonight and see if we can put some oul' game plan together!"
SCORERS -- Dublin: R O'Dwyer 3-2, P Ryan 0-8 (6f), L Rushe, D O'Callaghan and S Ryan 0-1 each. Limerick: D Hannon 0-11 (0-5f, 1 '65), K Downes 0-2, B Geary and G O'Mahony 0-2 frees each, D O'Grady 0-1.
DUBLIN -- G Maguire 8; P Schutte 7, P Kelly 8, N Corcoran 8; S Durkin 7, J Boland 5, M Carton 7; J McCaffrey 7, M O'Brien 6; C McCormack 5, A McCrabbe 7, L Rushe 9; D O'Callaghan 6, R O'Dwyer 9, P Ryan 8. Subs: D Treacy 7 for McCormack, S Lambert 6 for McCrabbe (44 mins), D Plunkett 6 for O'Brien (51), D Sutcliffe 6 for Durkin (60), S Ryan 7 for O'Callaghan (65).
LIMERICK -- N Quaid 6; D Moloney 5, S Hickey 6, T Condon 8; W McNamara 7, B Geary 5, G O'Mahony 7; D O'Grady 7, P Browne 6; N Moran 5, D Hannon 9, J Ryan 7; S Tobin 5, K Downes 6, G Mulcahy 6. Subs: S Walsh 7 for Geary (26), D Breen 6 for Tobin (49), R McCarthy 6 for Moran (53), S Lucey (not on long enough) for O'Grady (67).
Ref -- B Gavin (Offaly)