Friday 22 September 2017

Dublin finally working to one purpose

Dublin 0-14
Armagh 0-11
All-ireland SFC qualifier

Armagh's Steven McDonnell scores a point under pressure from Dublin goalkeeper at Croke Park on Saturday. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Armagh's Steven McDonnell scores a point under pressure from Dublin goalkeeper at Croke Park on Saturday. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

The old town was lit with song well into the early hours of Sunday morning. Not so much a vast awakening, more a gentle stirring in the big blue house.

If success really is about the journey and not the destination, Saturday's latest pit-stop for the Dublin footballers could yet prove to be a pivotal one. For the first time under Pat Gilroy, his panel appeared to perform as one.

Honesty, grit and character shone through on an afternoon of dismal fare that would have tested the patience of anyone clutching a remote control; the Dubs' faithful cared not a jot.

This is a significant victory which will boost confidence. Any victory against a side from outside Leinster is notable and, although the camp will continue to play down their hopes, perhaps being too bashful doesn't necessarily suit this side. At least now they can breathe.

Gilroy, a purveyor of anti-football according to his severest critics, was forced to concede that his side sat back a little too much at times as both sides condemned the spectators to the blight of the "spare man" in defence. Captain David Henry also confessed that perhaps the line-up looked a little defensive at times.

Neither Philly McMahon nor Ciaran McKeever can be blamed; their roles are cast from above. Little wonder just over 25,000 paid in to watch such poor fare, yet seven years ago these sides filled the cathedral for a league match in February.

It was remarkable how many times Dublin's efficient efforts at winning back possession were undermined by subsequent impotence. What is the point of winning a turnover on half-way if there is nobody inside to benefit?

Armagh's laborious build-up mocked their pretensions to sustained championship involvement; Dublin's ability to plunder every time Bernard Brogan touched the O'Neill's orb made one wonder why the over-reliance on conservatism.

What did shine through this Dublin performance was the sheer belief and cohesion that now exists within what remains of the championship panel -- late-night whispers of Jason Sherlock's imminent recall are, one presumes, borne out of misplaced optimism and a surfeit of porter.

That character burst through the indecisiveness that had hitherto existed even if the management were once more conceded to admit before the throw-in that their selection policy remains worryingly flawed.

However, there remains an insistence that this is a 20-man effort and all five replacements figured significantly in those decisive late minutes when Dublin pushed through, after McMahon's crucial goal-line intervention denied Armagh the opportunity to profit from their only goal chance.

Dublin forged four decent goal chances, from as early as the second minute when Alan Brogan burst through but chose the outside of his boot rather than the instep as his weapon of choice.

That Armagh led 0-6 to 0-2 by the 27th minute was a worrying sign; their glacial build-up sought to create mis-matches in the Dublin full-back line via the aerial route but, creditably, Rory O'Carroll more than held his own against Stevie McDonnell.

Apart from McDonnell, then, there was little scoring threat as young Jamie Clarke struggled to make an impression and Dublin stormed back into the contest, driven on by the likes of Bryan Cullen and, once more, Michael Darragh MacAuley, the find of the season.



Tackling

Dublin began turning the ball over extremely effectively: by our count five Dublin scores throughout can be traced directly to superb tackling on their opposite number.

They did an Armagh on Armagh, albeit this team is a pale shadow of the 2002 vintage.

In the second half, Stephen Cluxton, who had brought the sides level at the break with a '50, reigned supreme, erring but twice from the tee as he found his man repeatedly, starving Armagh of ball.

Dublin moved three ahead by the 50th minute and, although Armagh had a mini-surge to draw level by the hour, their challenge to Dublin's profligacy was aborted when McMahon brilliantly cleared Brian Mallon's unconvincing goal attempt.

Dublin's bench added ballast to their otherwise decisive finish, yet even amateur sleuths can detect that there are still two players who should not be starting next week.

However, this is a collective that prefers to salute Bernard Brogan's team-work rather than his genius with the boot. Before Cluxton's late strike, Brogan was Dublin's only scorer in a first half where they threatened to drown in the game's suffocating tedium, winning ball he had no earthly right to claim and snatching improbable points. To applaud his late mad dash to win a sideline was admirable but frankly a tad delusional.

On the other hand, Dublin will point to such an attitude as representative of their character and honesty that they felt was attacked during their Leinster championship implosion.

If they now emerge from this sense of quirky paranoia, Dublin could still have a role to play in this championship, as Armagh manager Paddy O'Rourke observed afterwards.

His team were a poor imitation of their former selves but the psychological impact for Dublin of beating a recent All-Ireland-winning outfit from the north is incalculable. The scenery may not be too wonderful but at least the journey has some road in it yet.

Scorers -- Dublin: B Brogan 0-9 (0-4f), S Cluxton (0-1 '45'), K McManamon, P McMahon, P Flynn, E Fennell 0-1 each. Armagh: S McDonnell 0-5 (0-2f), J Clarke, C McKeever, A Kernan, B Mallon, J Feeney, M Mackin 0-1 each.

Dublin -- S Cluxton 8; M Fitzsimons 7, R O'Carroll 8, P McMahon 7; K Nolan 7, G Brennan 6, B Cahill 7; MD MacAuley 9, R McConnell 6; B Cullen 8, D Henry 6, N Corkery 5; B Brogan 9, E O'Gara 5, A Brogan 6. Subs: K McManamon for O'Gara (ht), E Fennell for Corkery (45), P Flynn for Henry (55), D Magee for McConnell (58), P Andrews for Cullen (64).

Armagh -- P Hearty 6; A Mallon 5, B Donaghy 7, V Martin 7; P Duffy 5, C McKeever 8, F Moriarty 5; C Vernon 5, K Toner 4; M Mackin 8, A Kernan 5, G Swift 6; B Mallon 6, S McDonnell 7, J Clarke 6. Subs: J Feeney for Toner (37), J Lavery for Mackin (52), T Kernan for Vernon (68), F Hanratty for B Mallon (68).

Ref -- J McQuillan (Cavan).

Irish Independent

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