Blues in fight for survival
These Sunday afternoons are beginning to feel like Groundhog Day for the Dublin hurlers. They play a top-rated team, they battle gamely, they lose, and manager Anthony Daly is left to pick up the pieces of what can only be termed as another moral victory.
But the second season was never meant to be like this. That's why there was a great sense of frustration as they came away from Pearse Stadium in Galway yesterday and prepared to face into a relegation battle with Limerick that the script never suggested they would find themselves in.
Galway for their part will be pleased with the result which affords them a second League final in three years. But the performance left much to be desired.
For long spells, particularly in the second half, they conceded too much ground to a Dublin team that defied a strong breeze. They actually led for the first time midway through that second half when the impressive Shane Durkin clipped over the first of his three points as the visitors took charge at midfield.
With Durkin getting much support from John McCaffrey and a robust defence behind them, Dublin looked like doing enough to win only their second match of the campaign.
But a final flourish from Galway, triggered by an Ollie Canning equaliser from halfway on 65 minutes, broke their hearts and gave the home side a freedom their game had been missing for so long. Galway outpointed Dublin by 0-5 to 0-2 in the last 10 minutes leaving manager John McIntyre to admit that it had been "a tough day at the office''.
Ollie Canning's point was Galway's first from play since the second minute and in between there was a barren spell where only the consistency of Ger Farragher's frees and a Joe Canning sideline cut stood out.
Joe Canning had one of his quietest days but still forced two fine saves out of Dublin goalkeeper Gary Maguire in either half. Late on he limped off with a suspected hamstring injury and that sparked its own brief controversy as his replacement, Niall Healy, became Galway's sixth substitute of the match.
However, referee Barry Kelly and McIntyre both confirmed afterwards that Fergal Moore's withdrawal in the 18th minute for Ollie Canning had in fact been a blood substitution. The fact that Moore had not returned and that the substitution had not become permanent an hour later bemused Daly and the Dublin camp afterwards.
"It was being talked about in the dressing room afterwards,'' admitted Daly. But McIntyre said they had received a signal from Kelly that Moore was bleeding. "We wouldn't have done it (brought on Niall Healy) otherwise.''
Both managers were less than pleased with Kelly's performance all round and particularly the sending off of Galway's Cyril Donnellan and Dublin's Tomas Brady for their involvement in a 27th-minute fracas.
Kelly consulted with an umpire before making his call to issue two straight reds, a decision that both Daly and McIntyre felt was not in keeping with their reputations, or indeed the game.
"I just felt the referee was inconsistent. It was a harsh sending off for the two boys for a bit of a shemozzle in the goalmouth," McIntyre said. "They are two honest fellas, not fellas for fighting if you look at their careers.''
For Daly, Kelly refereed much more liberally in the second half and therein lay the inconsistency. "It was unbelievable, totally inconsistent maybe the game is being let go more. That's probably the way it's gone, is it?'' he asked.
"Let things go, let backs swing out of forwards.''
McIntyre admitted that he confronted Kelly at half-time to seek a different approach. "Both myself and Anthony (Daly) went to Barry Kelly at half-time and we were pleading with him that it was a man's game. That might sound a bit trite but it really is," he said.
"I felt it was extremely harsh in the circumstances, I know Cyril Donnellan and I'll stand over him as a sportsman.''
The sendings-off aside, there was a number of other reckless challenges. Some were head high and did not get the punishment that they perhaps deserved.
Galway had put themselves in a strong position and led by 0-8 to 0-6 at the break. But Dublin resumed with greater purpose and that pleased Daly most.
"I thought it was a massively spirited display. It looked at half-time as if it were the case of how much Galway would win by, but the lads rallied inside and we gave it one unmerciful go," Daly added.
Central to Dublin's success in the second half was their deployment of an extra defender, a tactic they have used regularly in the past and which has worked well. Peter Kelly switched to wing-back and Niall Corcoran and Oisín Gough shared the sweeping duties.
Eventually, Galway changed their formation to combat this and replaced an attacker with a defender by bringing on Joe Gantley for Damian Joyce in the 62nd minute. "We had lost shape in attack and we felt that if we got an orthodox attacking formation in the field it might help us to drag us back into the match,'' McIntyre added.
It did just that with Damien Hayes, Joe Canning and Kevin Hynes (two) scoring vital points to turn the tide and book a League final with Cork, who they meet in a final-round game that is meaningless as a consequence.
Dublin have more pressing business with Limerick in Parnell Park in two weeks' time with Daly adding: "It is probably a bit unjust that we are in this situation but if we can't beat Limerick then we don't deserve to stay up.''
Scorers -- Galway: G Farragher 0-9 (7f, 2 '65); K Hynes, J Canning (1 sl) 0-2 each; O Canning, C Donnellan, E Ryan, D Hayes 0-1 each. Dublin: A McCrabbe 0-5 (5f); S Durkin 0-3; P Ryan (1f), J McCaffrey 0-2 each; P Kelly, D O'Callaghan and D Treacy 0-1 each.
Galway -- C Callanan; F Moore, S Kavanagh, D Joyce; D Collins, T Og Regan, D Barry; G Farragher, D Burke; J Canning, C Donnellan, E Ryan; A Harte, I Tannian, D Hayes. Subs: K Hynes for Tannian (43 mins), A Smith for Burke (58), R Cummins for Harte (60), J Gantley for Joyce (62), N Healy for J Canning (70).
Dublin -- G Maguire; N Corcoran, T Brady, O Gough; S Hiney, J Boland, M O'Brien; J McCaffrey, S Durkin; P Kelly, L Rushe, D O'Callaghan; A McCrabbe, S Lambert, D Treacy. Subs: P Ryan for Lambert (51), R Fallon for Kelly (71).
Ref -- B Kelly (Westmeath).