Dubs break down the Donegal wall
Dublin 1-10 Donegal 0-7
Published 28/03/2016 | 02:30
A dismal prelude to summer or just a trivial eyesore calved from two heavyweights killing time?
Jim Gavin's amused eyes suggested that Donegal cheerfully asserting their right to play as they choose didn't quite merit the synthetic fury blowing through Croke Park on Saturday evening.
Within eight minutes of the throw-in, jeers rolled down off Hill 16 as the visitors sandbagged their defence so tightly that at one point 29 players caromed joylessly inside Donegal's '45'.
This clogged the arteries of a contest that came, thus, to be conducted on a moral and creative shoestring.
Football is as indigestible as cardboard in this guise because when one team deploys the full-court press, the other must - by necessity - reciprocate. "That's not the way we play the game, it's not by choice," acknowledged Gavin.
Their semi-final place long since secured, Dublin granted leave to a pocket of marquee figures and settled back to see what plans Donegal had for a backline pillaged of Rory O'Carroll, Jack McCaffrey and Cian O'Sullivan. The answer was disappointing.
Rory Gallagher may no longer be especially pally with his old comrade Jim McGuinness, but he clearly retains a fondness for his work. Because Donegal set up here to strangle the Dubs, not stretch them.
Gallagher himself referenced "that famous game in 2011", when McGuinness patented a 14-man defence that so outraged football's aesthetic wing, it seemed he had cursed the game forever.
Donegal got inside Dublin's heads that August day and, truth to tell, they almost did so again here.
With half an hour remaining, they led 0-6 to 0-5, the hosts looking a little hurried and vexed at having to negotiate such endlessly suffocating traffic.
Donegal had also hinted at a little fragility in the Dublin rearguard, Eoin McHugh ghosting in behind the full-back line for an early goal chance that 'keeper Michael Savage did well to deny whilst runs from deep by Rory Kavanagh and Eamon McGee produced points that might have been goals.
True, Cormac Costello drilled a gilt-edged goal chance wide at the Hill end too, but anxiety seemed to be spreading like weeds across some Dublin minds.
They had edged a point in front mind when, in the 48th minute, Michael Murphy - already on a yellow - recklessly fly-kicked at a ball that Ciaran Kilkenny was bending low to gather.
This was the spark for a gentle squabble that tapered out with both Murphy and James McCarthy shown second yellows by referee Conor Lane.
TV replays did not reflect well on McCarthy, whose hand clearly made contact with the eye of Donegal substitute Martin McElhinney.
Gallagher would lament Murphy's dismissal, Donegal's third in consecutive games, on the basis that his talisman was now being refereed "slightly different" to other players.
Suggesting that his first yellow (for a fifth-minute collision with John Small) had been unwarranted, the Donegal manager seemed to miss an essential point about what has become a routine use of one of the game's most gifted forwards.
Deployed around the middle third as a kind of freelance bouncer, Murphy's lust for contact simply draws him into more conflict than seems wise. It was tempting to wonder how his presence on the edge of the 'square' might have challenged a callow Dublin defence, but we never got to find out.
And Murphy himself was dismissive of any invitation for self-pity after, suggesting flatly that - in the cold arithmetic of the rule book - two fouls equated to two yellows and, accordingly, a red.
Maybe, as Gavin suggested, Donegal were "just trying something" here. Perhaps, without the reassuring presence of Neil McGee and Frank McGlynn in his backline, Gallagher was simply protecting the interests of a team still within touching distance of the semi-finals.
Whatever, Murphy's departure essentially called their bluff, Dublin finally easing through the gears to get hitherto threadbare support to the excellent Kevin McManamon who was, maybe Patrick McBrearty apart, the only forward who looked entirely at ease with this grim struggle for air.
There were just four minutes of normal time remaining when McManamon's perfectly looped handpass found Philly McMahon ghosting in behind Donegal's now flagging cover and the corner-back drilled home a smart corner-forward's finish beyond Mark Anthony McGinley.
Thereafter, the "olé" chants rang around Croker as Dublin closed out business.
Gavin spoke afterwards of his players "having fun" breaking down the challenge of mass defence. He did imply too that goal chances spurned by Costello and the excellent Brian Fenton might well have altered the general terms of engagement earlier.
Gallagher agreed that Murphy's dismissal had been a central plot-line. He was, however, indifferent to the chorus of disquiet building again for a defensive system that tends to offend those who love football as distinct from ruthless militarism.
And his smile suggested anyone thinking otherwise could just go head up their local Boy Scouts movement.
SCORERS - Dublin: K McManamon 0-3, C Costello 0-3 (2f), P McMahon 1-0, B Fenton, P Andrews, C Kilkenny and D Rock 0-1 each.
Donegal: P McBrearty 0-3 (1f), M Murphy, R Kavanagh, O MacNiallais and E McGee 0-1 each.
DUBLIN - M Savage 7; P McMahon 7, J Cooper 6, D Byrne 7; J McCarthy 6, E Lowndes 7, J Small 6; B Fenton 8, D Bastick 7; P Flynn 6, K McManamon 9, C Kilkenny 7; C Costello 6, P Andrews 7, B Brogan 5. Subs: D Rock 6 for Brogan (40 mins), E O Conghaile 6 for Bastick (44), S Carthy 6 for Lowndes (53), M Fitzsimons 6 for Small (53), T Brady 6 for Costello (59), D Daly for McManamon (70).
DONEGAL - MA McGinley 7; P McGrath 7, E McGee 7, K Lacey 6; R McHugh 7, A Thompson 7, C Gillespie 6; M Murphy 6, O MacNiallais 6; H McFadden 6, R Kavanagh 7, M O'Reilly 6; L McLoone 6, P McBrearty 8, E McHugh 7. Subs: M McHugh 6 for McGrath (40), C Toye 6 for McFadden (59), E Gallagher 6 for Thompson (59 mins), C McFadden for Lacey (65 mins), M Carroll for Kavanagh (74 mins).
REF - C Lane (Cork).