Brogans keep Blues' tide on rise
Emotional night for brothers as Dublin book place in final
It has been a long time coming but Dublin footballers have finally booked in for their first National final since 1999 and their first in Croke Park for 18 years.
The 1999 league final was played in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, which means that when Dublin line up for this year's decider on April 24, it will be the first time since 1993 -- when they beat Donegal in a replay -- that Croke Park will rock to the blue beat on a National final day.
Dublin's good news story is rendered all the more impressive by being achieved before they complete the Division 1 programme against Galway next Sunday.
Manager, Pat Gilroy promised that they would remain on full focus for the trip west ("we'll be trying to get an improvement on tonight"), but it's a journey they can undertake with a real sense of contentment as they seek to close out the divisional campaign with seven straight wins.
Their sixth was delivered with a last-minute goal from Alan Brogan in Croke Park on Saturday night after Down midfielder, Kalum King spilled a cross-kick in front of goal.
Brogan capped a highly productive outing by booting the ball to the net to secure a victory that appeared somewhat unlikely after Down exploited their best period to kick three unanswered points and go one clear in the 68th minute.
However, Bernard Brogan, who came on in the 42nd minute, kicked a spectacular point in the 71st minute to level it up, before his older brother clinched a victory which means that, over the last two months, Dublin have beaten the 2010 and 2009 All-Ireland winners and runners-up and National League champions. It's quite a haul which has sent expectation levels soaring in Dublin.
Even Down manager James McCartan joined the tribute band by bundling Dublin alongside Cork and Kerry as the country's top three sides. Boss Gilroy, however, is already preparing the anti-hype measures and rightly so.
For, while there has been a whole lot to admire about Dublin's play so far, history shows that spring surges are best treated with caution. Still, a team can only play the game that's put in front of them and -- so far at least -- Dublin have coped with every challenge presented by six opponents.
A key priority on Saturday night was to secure the defensive bolts after conceding 3-13 against Mayo. Dublin did that by dropping more players behind the ball and by getting a high work ethic from their forwards when Down were in possession. It wasn't exactly pretty to watch, but there was no questioning its effectiveness.
It forced Down into crabbing across the pitch more often than was prudent with long spells of possession often ending with an intercepted pass.
McCartan admitted that Dublin's set-up frustrated Down, but felt that his side will have learned a lot from a game where the sides were level on nine occasions.
"We didn't break them down often enough. We certainly had problems in that area in the first half, but I thought we had more success in the second. The trouble was that we didn't close things out when we were on top," he said.
For all that, there could be no disputing that Dublin were the more effective side overall. In the end, it took a fortuitous goal to ensure victory, but, with a little more precision, they would have had three more goals.
Midfielder, Denis Bastick was just wide with a clear chance in the 20th minute; Paul Flynn hit the post in the 32nd minute and Brendan McVeigh made a fine save from Barry Cahill after he dribbled in on goal in the 41st minute. Add in two missed frees from Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan, and it becomes clear just how high Dublin's yield might have been.
Brogan's arrival gave the Dublin attack a fresh impetus on what was a poignant occasion for the family. The three brothers, Alan, Bernard and Paul all decided to play, despite the death yesterday of their grandfather, Jim, for whom a minute's silence was observed before the start.
Their performances were a fitting tribute on what turned out to be a happy occasion in the exciting development of the Dublin squad.
"There are still a lot of things to get right," said Pat Gilroy afterwards, but they will be attempting to do so from a very solid base. Their work ethic is extremely good, while there's an overall sense of confidence that suggests the days of being haunted by past failures are behind them.
"Our application was first class tonight. I'd certainly be a lot happier with the way we defended after what happened against Mayo. It wasn't easy. Down make you work very hard but, in the main, we kept doing the right thing which was very important. We conceded 3-9 in 18 minutes against Mayo so it was important to get that side of our game right," he said.
The only periods in which Dublin struggled to cope with the Down attack were early on and for a spell in the final quarter. However, they recovered from the early pressure to get in for a goal from Flynn in the 11th minute. It was all square -- 1-5 to 0-8 at half-time before Dublin pulled two points clear in the 55th minute.
Martin Clarke (two) and Conor Maginn pointed to edge Down in front, but Dublin's stoppage-time surge yielded 1-1 and victory. Coupled with the hurlers' recovery against Kilkenny, it saw out the Spring Series on a high.
The attendance of 35,264, brought the total for the four events to 112,972, making it a very worthwhile exercise.
Man of the Match: Alan Brogan (Dublin)
Scorers - Dublin: A Brogan, P Flynn 1-1 each, T Quinn 0-4 (3f), D Connolly, B Cullen, B Cahill, B Brogan 0-1 each. Down: M Clarke 0-3 (3f), P McComiskey, B Coulter, D Hughes 0-2 each, P Fitzpatrick, K McKernan, M Poland, C Maginn 0-1 each.
Dublin - S Cluxton 7; N Devereux 7, P Brogan 6, P McMahon 7; K Nolan 7, G Brennan 7, D Nelson 6; D Bastick 6, B Cahill 7; P Flynn 7, K McManamon 6, B Cullen 6; A Brogan 8, D Connolly 7, T Quinn 7. Subs: B Brogan 7 for McManamon (42). MD Macauley 6 for Cahill (42), P Andrews 6 for Cullen (58), P Burke for Quinn (68), D Kelly for Flynn for (70).
Down - B McVeigh 7; G McCartan 6, D Gordon 7, B McArdle 6; C Garvey 6, K McKernan 7, D Rooney 7; P Fitzpatrick 6 K King 6; D Hughes 7, M Poland 6, C Maginn 7; M Clarke 6, P McComiskey 6, B Coulter 7. Subs: D McCartan 7 for McArdle (45), D Alder 6 for McVeigh (46), R Murtagh 6 for McComiskey (52), J Colgan 6 for Fitzpatrick (52), E McCartan 6 for Poland (57),
Ref - S Doyle (Wexford)