ANTHONY Daly was thankful for small mercies as the Dublin hurlers scraped through to the final by a single point at the expense of a battling 14-man Galway side at Parnell Park.
Daly (below) was relieved to escape with a win in the Dubs' first competitive outing of the year and will now focus his attention on the decider against Wexford next Sunday. "We got the breaks and got our nose in front at the finish, but it's early season stuff," Daly said.
"They had 14 for a lot of it, but the way Galway play, with everyone coming deep, can cause confusion for the opposition – we saw that last year. We were very lively at the start and then we took our foot off the gas a little bit. Maybe it was a lack of concentration, but we've plenty to talk about during the week.
"We're delighted to get the win. This time last year we were losing those games by a point, so it's nice to be coming out the right side of it," Daly said.
Galway manager Anthony Cunningham felt disappointed on two counts: the 19th-minute red card for midfielder Andy Smith after a clash with Dublin's Conal Keaney and referee John Keenan's decision not to award a free to Aidan Harte when he hit the deck close to the Dublin goal in the dying seconds.
In the first incident, Keaney got a yellow, but Smith was dismissed, leaving the Tribesmen a man down for the remaining 50 minutes plus time added on for injuries.
"The sending-off was very harsh, I thought. The match was played in a good spirit. At the time, there was no argy-bargy of any sort, so it was harsh.
"We worked very hard, but we were always going to be up against it at this time of year with a man down, but we would be very happy with the workout.
"Probably the free we didn't get at the end, we were very harshly done by.
"I don't think either Dublin or ourselves would have minded extra-time," Cunningham said.
Galway talisman Joe Canning did not play due to a cracked rib sustained in the quarter-final against Carlow, but is expected to be fit within a fortnight. Tadhg Haran was his replacement.
Dublin stuck with the side that was selected to play the quarter-final against UCD last Friday week. That game was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch less than an hour before the start and could not be re-fixed due to the students' Fitzgibbon Cup commitments.
Saturday's match was played in bright sunshine and was a lively, entertaining and high-scoring affair.
The respective managers would not have been pleased at some of the loose play and slack defending, but spectators were not complaining as they witnessed some great end-to-end play.
Only 10 minutes had elapsed and Dublin led by 1-7 to 1-4, with the goals scored by Paul Ryan and Galway's Johnny Glynn.
Kevin Byrne fired in a long high ball which Mark Schutte did brilliantly to catch under pressure, before passing to skipper Johnny McCaffrey who then gave Ryan the chance to blast the ball into the net.
Galway bounced back in style with a move that began with a clearance from full-back Kevin Hynes.
Damien Hayes got possession, fed the ball to Davy Glennon and he opened the way for Glynn's powerful strike to the net.
Dublin 'keeper Gary Maguire had no chance with that one, but he made two crucial saves in the second half to deny the Tribesmen any more goals – something which proved so crucial to the ultimate outcome.
Also significant was corner-forward Ryan's accuracy from placed balls. The Dubs' free-taker finished with 1-7, four of the points coming from frees and one from a '65.'
Galway's Niall Healy was on song, too, contributing 11 points, six from frees and one '65.'
Smith's red card was a blow for Galway, but their effort and work rate masked Canning's absence for most of the time.
At half-time the visitors led by two points on a 1-11 to 1-9 scoreline and they made the early running in the second half until Dublin's second goal in the 45th minute.
Danny Sutcliffe did the honours after substitute Peter Kelly presented him with the goal opportunity and his score put the boys in blue a point ahead at 2-14 to 1-16.
Simon Lambert and Ross O'Carroll came on as substitutes in the 51st minute. Soon afterwards, Sean McGrath replaced injured full-back Paul Schutte, and this trio had no time to draw breath in a pulsating battle to the final whistle.
Galway edged ahead with a '65' scored by Healy eight minutes from the end.
That score brought them to 1-21, but, in a hectic finish, Shane Durkin (a '65') and Ryan (a late free) got the points which saw Dublin safely through to the decider.
Scorers – Dublin: P Ryan 1-7 (5f, '65'); D Sutcliffe 1-3; J McCaffrey 0-3; E Dillon 0-2; C Crummy, K Byrne, J Boland, C Keaney, S Durkin 0-1 each. Galway: N Healy 0-11 (6f, '65'); J Glynn 1-0; D Glennon 0-3; D Hayes, A Harte 0-2 each; P Brehony, T Haran, A Callanan 0-1 each
Dublin – G Maguire; N Corcoran, P Schutte, R Trainor; J Boland, M Carton, C Crummey; K Byrne, S Durkin; C Keaney, J McCaffrey, D Sutcliffe; E Dillon, M Schutte, P Ryan. Subs: P Kelly for N Corcoran (27); D O'Callaghan for C Crummey (h-t); S Lambert for K Byrne (51); R O'Carroll for M Schutte (51); S McGrath for P Schutte (54)
Galway – C Callanan; F Moore, K Hynes, J Coen; D Collins, T Og Regan, A Harte; A Smith, J Glynn; D Hayes, J Glynn, P Gordon; N Healy, T Haran, D Glennon. Subs: P Brehony for P Gordon (22); P Killeen for T Og Regan (32); A Callanan for T Haran (48); S Maloney for A Callanan (65); E Ward for D Hayes (68).
Ref – J Keenan (Wicklow)