Gavin hits out at 'special attention' as Dubs march on
Boss demands rules should be ‘applied equally’ after Connolly, O’Gara and Fenton dismissed in testing workout for champions
Reasons to be cheerful were many and varied for Jim Gavin after Dublin qualified for the All-Ireland semi-final for a seventh successive year, but finishing the game with 13 players left him with issues which he felt needed to be addressed.
Dublin 1-15 Donegal 1-10
Diarmuid Connolly (two yellow cards), Eoghan O'Gara (straight red) and Brian Fenton (black) all finished on the bench - the latter's dismissal and replacement was of no consequence since it came in the final minute.
Connolly's sending-off was, in Gavin's eyes, much different and pointed to a difficulty that players like him experience on a regular basis. Connolly and Ryan McHugh were booked in the ninth minute for an outbreak of 'getting to know you' action and the St Vincent's man was ordered off in the 46th minute after a loose tackle on Anthony Thompson.
Gavin was clearly unhappy to lose two players to red cards, presumably fearing that it raises questions about Dublin's discipline.
"It's a source of disappointment that for a team who plays the way we want to play, we end up with 13 men. That's the surprising bit that I find and it's probably a question you need to ask the officials," he said.
So should Donegal have men sent off too?
"Not necessarily. I'm just saying that to get two men sent off like that . . . a lot of what happened in the game was very predictable going into it. We all knew what would happen, that some of our players would receive special attention. That was the case and it's up to officials to act on it. There are eight of them - four umpires and four men in black - they're letting the players down, on both sides by the way."
Does Gavin think that Connolly is being deliberately provoked in an attempt to have him booked early on?
"Absolutely, yeah. He plays within the rules as best he can and if he doesn't he gets punished, like the last game when he got a yellow card for rough play. . . absolutely no complaints but the rules have to be equally applied," said Gavin.
There's no doubt that Connolly was targeted early on and, as so often happens in these situations, the referee lost patience and booked both players.
Of course it's never a case of angels and demons, and while Connolly can consider himself unlucky to have picked up the first booking, Donegal could argue that some of their biggest talents - particularly Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty - came in for special attention too, just as they do in every game.
Gavin insisted that any Dublin player who raises his hand to an opponent "won't get any sympathy from me" but remains perplexed how his side lost two players.
"We want to go out and win games. We don't always get it right but we try to play the game in the right manner, so to finish this game with 13 men is a bit strange," he said.
Ultimately, though, all that mattered was the scoreboard, which showed Dublin five points ahead after a game where they were well-tested following Connolly's dismissal.
His sending-off came shortly after McHugh's goal had cut Dublin's lead to three points (0-11 to 1-5), before Dean Rock and Murphy traded points.
It left Donegal three points behind with 15 minutes of normal time (plus eight minutes stoppage-time) remaining. It looked nicely poised for the Ulster runners-up but they failed to get any closer than three points to opposition that remained structurally solid and mentally calm.
O'Gara's dismissal in stoppage-time (four minutes after he came on) added to the pressure but Dublin's response was impressive, with another sub, Paul Mannion, firing in a goal in the 76th minute.
Red cards apart, it was a very satisfactory outing for Dublin. Starting without James McCarthy - his withdrawal came as no surprise even if he was named on the starting 15 - Gavin assigned Ciaran Kilkenny to half-back duty, where he turned in a man-of-the-match performance.
He spent more time on the ball than anyone else, as if magnetically drawn to the point of action, as he adapted with complete ease to his new role.
Dublin's remarkable strength in depth is underlined by a combination of factors. They were without McCarthy, plus long-term absentees Jack McCaffrey and Rory O'Carroll, had Connolly sent off in the third quarter, while Bernard Brogan, replaced after 48 minutes, had an off-day. Yet they never really looked like losing.
"There were a lot of hard questions asked of us but we had the resilience to cope with them," said Gavin.
As in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final clash with Donegal, Dublin missed two excellent goal chances in the first quarter, first when Connolly failed to beat goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley after just 20 seconds, and in the 18th minute when he fired wide from close in.
Donegal would have pleased with several aspects of the first 20 minutes, which ended 0-2 each before Dublin greatly increased their efficiency rate to win the rest of the half by 0-7 to 0-2. Significantly, Dublin were far more accurate, kicking only three wides in the first half, compared to seven by Donegal.
Donegal's long-established policy of packing their defensive half (even McBrearty drifted well outfield at times in the first half) made for some very sterile exchanges but with Dublin leading, they were happy to play keep-ball too as they worked patiently at finding openings.
Realising that they had to open up if they were to have any chance of winning, Donegal became more adventurous early in the second half and were rewarded with a Ryan McHugh goal after a quick incisive move.
Unfortunately for Donegal, such creativity was a rare sight but then they were up against a superior force that was full value for their winning margin as they set up a semi-final clash with Kerry on August 28.
Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-5 (4fs, 1 '65'), P Mannion 1-1, K McManamon 0-3, D Connolly 0-2, P McMahon, P Andrews, J Cooper, C Kilkenny 0-1 each. Donegal: M Murphy 0-6 (5fs, 1 '45'), R McHugh 1-0, P McBrearty 0-3, A Thompson 0-1.
Dublin - S Cluxton 7; P McMahon 7, J Cooper 7, D Byrne 7; C Kilkenny 9, C O'Sullivan 7, J Small 8; B Fenton 7, MD Macauley 6; P Flynn 7, K McManamon 8, D Connolly 6; D Rock 6, P Andrews 6, B Brogan 5. Subs: D Daly 6 for Brogan (48), D Bastick 6 for Macauley (53), P Mannion 8 for Andrews (56), E O'Gara for McManamon (68), E Lowndes for Rock (74), M Fitzsimons for Fenton (b/c 76).
Donegal - MA McGinley 8; P McGrath 7, N McGee 7, E McGee 7; R McHugh 7, K Lacey 6, F McGlynn 6; R Kavanagh 6, O MacNiallais 5; A Thompson 7, M McElhinney 6, E McHugh 7; P McBrearty 6, M Murphy 6, M O'Reilly 6. Subs: C Gillespie 6 for MacNiallais (ht), L McLoone 6 for Kavanagh (42), C Toye 7 for Thompson (48), M McHugh 6 for E McGee (55), C Thompson for McElhinney (61), C McFadden for Lacey (71).
Ref - C Branagan (Down)