Brogan in full flight but Dublin suffer late turbulence
Dublin 2-23 Fermanagh 2-15
A match that was rolling along to an inevitable conclusion on a straight stretch of motorway took a sharp an unexpected detour on to a few dirt tracks in the closing stages.
It was never going to grind them to a halt but they hit a few bumps and ruts all the same, sustaining a little bit of damage to the bodywork of their defence and unnerving them sufficiently to generate some enthusiasm for a 58,680 crowd that was being lulled into slumber by the one-sided nature of both All-Ireland quarter-finals in Croke Park.
The catalyst for those late ripples of excitement was a goal that should never have been.
It seems strange to be documenting an own-goal beside the name of Stephen Cluxton but that's what the record will show after he was bundled illegally over the line by Fermanagh full-forward Sean Quigley, having caught Damien Kelly's point attempt that had dropped short.
Referee Padraig O'Sullivan consulted both umpires at the Hill end after strong protestations from Quigley, and maybe they came to the conclusion that Cluxton had, in fact, stepped over the line as he caught Kelly's shot. But even then, replays showed the ball remained on the right side of the white line.
O'Sullivan awarded the goal, which trimmed Dublin's lead back to 10 points, 1 -21 to 1-11, though Jim Gavin's men quickly responded with a Dean Rock point and a Paul Flynn goal, after smart approach work from Bernard Brogan and Rock either side of Barry Mulrone's point.
But the concession of the goal, their first in this year's Championship and only a sixth when nine League games are incorporated, saw composure displaced by chaos for the last 10 minutes. It clearly irked them.
Cluxton, who had misplaced a couple of clearances and kick-outs in the first half, and substitute Mick Fitzsimons got their calls wrong as they sought to control a rebound from Jack McCaffrey's block on Marty O'Brien, allowing Tomas Corrigan to grab a second goal.
It was a rare lapse from the game's foremost goalkeeper, who normally exerts firm control and decisiveness in these situations.
To their credit Fermanagh made the most of Dublin's dropped guard, with substitute Conall Jones scoring back-to-back points and Quigley, who became the pantomime villain to horrified Dublin supporters after successfully arguing the case for the goal, lifting his tally to eight points (four from frees) on an afternoon when he really looked to be enjoying himself.
There was pluck and feistiness to Pete McGrath's side. They didn't retreat into their shells as Westmeath had done three weeks earlier and made sure to keep at least three forwards in Dublin's half at all times. Ryan Jones and Barry Mulrone regularly took up deep positions but there was no mass entrenchment.
Inevitably that approach left enough space behind for Dublin to exploit, ruthlessly at times.
Some of their foot-passing and combination play was as slick as it has been this summer, especially for Bernard Brogan's goal on 13 minutes for which Jack McCaffrey and Brian Fenton combined before McCaffrey floated the most inviting 40 metre pass off the outside of his right foot over Niall Cassidy, where Brogan had found space to fire his team into a 1-4 to 0-1 lead.
Fenton has rapidly made himself the anchor at midfield, leaving Denis Bastick and Michael Darragh Macauley to share duties beside him. His passing off the foot and ability to hold his ground under kickouts stood out again. But the altitude is rising from now on.
McCaffrey has once again franked his entitlement to a place on the shortlist for Footballer of the Year with another aggressive display at half-back. No one make yards out of a defence like him when he goes. The source of the opening goal was an interception that prefaced his pass.
Dublin's greatest trouble was arguably the number of refereeing decisions that went against them.
Two years ago, after their All-Ireland final with Mayo, manager Gavin used the platform of victory to rail against the way his team had been refereed all summer. In any analysis of the final itself, such comments looked unjustified.
After this, however, Gavin has major grounds for complaint. How can a team which had as much possession as they enjoyed - 25 scores and 10 wides amounts to a lot of ball - only receive four frees? By comparison Fermanagh had 21.
Are we to assume that Fermanagh are such skilled tacklers and that Dublin's work in contact is much cruder?
Just a few examples. McCaffrey's strong challenge along the end line on Ruairi Corrigan in the 16th minute looked fair, yet a free was given; a minute later Paddy Andrews' contact with Ryan McCluskey looked minimal but, again, the free was swiftly given. The first Fermanagh goal speaks for itself.
In the context of an eight-point win this might be easily brushed aside but Fermanagh profited from a benevolent approach.
For Dublin it was a considerable improvement on their Westmeath display, especially the opening half when they brought such great precision to their play to lead by 1-13 to 0-6.
Brogan led the line superbly and helped himself to 1-6, bringing his Championship tally to a most impressive 5-16 from play in four games. They may be picking off low hanging fruit but his eye is very much in and, at this point of the season, he hasn't been as prolific since 2010.
Outside, Rock enjoyed a good day and will be satisfied to have converted the two frees and '45' that he stepped up to, in addition to good work from play, while Ciaran Kilkenny was again influential until a back injury forced his withdrawal at the break.
Diarmuid Connolly kicked two wonderful points in the first half and a tap-down after the break almost created a goal for Kevin McManamon but as Dublin dominance grew he tried a few things that didn't come off and Gavin, strikingly, hauled him ashore.
For much of the game Dublin dealt well with Fermanagh raids, Cian O'Sullivan again underlining the security he brings to centre-back. But Mulrone pinched three points, Corrigan grabbed two from slim pickings while Quigley roamed deep with much success.
Maybe that bit of chaos will serve Dublin well in the long run, a timely reminder, if they needed it, that the road won't always be straight.
Scorers - Dublin: B Brogan 1-6, D Rock 0-7 (2fs, 1 '45'), P Flynn 1-1, K McManamon, C Kilkenny 0-3 each, D Connolly 0-2, B Fenton 0-1. Fermanagh: S Quigley 0-8 (4fs), T Corrigan 1-2, B Mulrone 0-3, S Cluxton 1-0 og, C Jones 0-2.
Dublin - S Cluxton 5; J Cooper 7, R O'Carroll 6, P McMahon 7; J McCarthy 6, C O'Sullivan 8, J McCaffrey 8; B Fenton 8, D Bastick 6; P Flynn 7, C Kilkenny 7, D Connolly 7; D Rock 8, P Andrews 8, B Brogan 9. Subs: MD Macauley 6 for Bastick (ht), K McManamon 6 for Kilkenny (ht), A Brogan 5 for Connolly (48), M Fitzsimons 7 for Cooper (50), J Small 6 for McCarthy (55), C Costello for Andrews (66).
Fermanagh - T Treacy 7; N Cassidy 5, R McCluskey 7, M Jones 6; J McMahon 6, M O'Brien 7, D McCusker 6; E Donnelly 7, R O'Callaghan 6; R Corrigan 5, R Jones 7, P McCusker 6; B Mulrone 8, S Quigley 8, T Corrigan 7. Subs: D Kelly 6 for P McCusker (42), C Jones 7 for D McCusker (54), T Daly 6 for M Jones (54), D Kille for R Corrigan (68).
Ref - P O'Sullivan (Kerry)
All-Ireland SFC quarter final