Sunday 23 July 2017

Dubs in first gear as Carlow park bus

In one of the most memorable moments of last night’s match, Carlow’s Séan Murphy executed a perfect block on Dean Rock, preventing what seemed a certain point. Photos: Ray McManus. Photo: Sportsfile
In one of the most memorable moments of last night’s match, Carlow’s Séan Murphy executed a perfect block on Dean Rock, preventing what seemed a certain point. Photos: Ray McManus. Photo: Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

Nonsense, an acquaintance declared, when it emerged that Carlow would get the chance to play Dublin in the Leinster Championship. It is a cold-hearted view but much of the championship is clinical and merciless, a survival of the fittest where shortcomings are brutally exposed. Carlow knew this. They didn't need to be told heading to Portlaoise last night for a first pop at Dublin in the championship since 1988.

Dublin have been compiling a resume which in its monstrosity has begun to numb the senses. They have suffered one defeat in Leinster, to Meath, since 2004. Their only championship loss under Jim Gavin, now in his fifth season, was to Donegal and they are on course for a third All-Ireland title in a row, last achieved by the county in the 1920s. If they win Leinster this year, which is a virtual certainty, the will have surpassed another record, that achieved when Dublin played under Kevin Heffernan.

Dean Rock of Dublin has his shot blocked by Séan Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile
Dean Rock of Dublin has his shot blocked by Séan Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile

That supremacy was never likely to be in peril here. Dublin won with plenty to spare, 0-19 to 0-7, but it wasn't straightforward. The bookies offered a 19-point handicap such was Carlow's perceived hopelessness, but for long spells they mounted a heroic resistance. They scored the first point, through Brendan Murphy, and they had the last of the first half too, an immense score of pure class from their captain Darragh Foley. If you heard nothing of what lay in between you would be startled to hear they were only three points adrift at the interval, 0-5 to 0-8.

How? Well, it wasn't a victory for aesthetics. They left Paul Broderick near the Dublin goal and almost everyone else was on a defensive job in the their own half. Dublin couldn't conjure up a single goal chance. In this system, as a Dublin player, it was more enjoyable being as far from the Carlow goal as possible. From deep their best player, Jack McCaffrey, scored two fine points and set up another.

But whatever lingering designs they had on the match evaporated with the sending off of their key player Brendan Murphy in the 48th minute, cited by linesman Ciarán Branigan after an off-the-ball clash with Jonny Cooper. The Carlow sideline, not least manager Turlough O'Brien, was incensed, a frequent sight during the evening as they protested several frees given to Dublin. When Murphy was sent off, his second booking, Carlow were still within four points of Dublin, who were forced to send on Bernard Brogan to try and create more spark up front. By the time Brogan scored his first point, after 55 minutes, Dublin were seven points clear.

Perhaps the omens were never promising. Wexford was the expected quarter-final opponent until Carlow threw a spanner in the works, ruining whatever plans Dublin fans had for a bank holiday weekend in the south-east. Last night's rare encounter really should have been held in Dr Cullen Park and with 13,238 in O'Moore Park, the Carlow ground would have been able to house them. Many Dubliners clearly didn't think the journey worth it.

Dean Rock and Séan Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile
Dean Rock and Séan Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile

Carlow's presence, and the obvious risk of a slaughter, raises questions about the meaning and purpose of this provincial championship. But they and others have shown no interest in entering a secondary championship. They belong historically and the want to continue belonging. Being on the same field as Dublin last night and getting the chance to pit themselves, however terrifyingly, against one of the best assemblies of all time is enough reward of itself. To the young people who were there to follow them, Dublin provided much of the appeal. But Carlow being part of it will be engraved in their memories and may inspire them to play, or stay playing, when they grown older.

Carlow's massed defence wan't easy on the eye but understandable given the gulf in class. The win over Wexford was their first in the championship in six years. In contrast, since Gavin took over as manager Dublin had an average winning margin of 15 points over 12 Leinster Championship games played before last night's opening defence of their provincial and All-Ireland titles. This wasn't vintage Dublin. It didn't need to be.

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