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COSTELLO'S late free sees Dublin snatch dramatic victory.

AS blindside runs go, it was timed to perfection. 

With the clock reading 59 minutes and 40 seconds, Cormac Costello bisected the town end goalposts in O'Moore Park from a contentiously awarded 20m free.

Thus, for the first time in a fraught contest that captivated for tactical rather than free-flowing reasons, Dublin led this U21 football semi-final. They duly survived two minutes of injury-time, leaving Dessie Farrell's young cubs in sight of All-Ireland heaven and Cavan in semi-final purgatory for the third year running.

It wasn't just the defeat (0-11 to 0-10), but its circumstance that left Cavan apoplectic and necessitated a cordon of stewards and Gardai for Derek O'Mahoney as the Tipperary ref exited the pitch, abuse ringing in his ears.

A succession of big calls all conspired against the Breffni men in those closing minutes. Should Cavan have won a free in at the genesis of the pitch length move that culminated in Conor McHugh's 55th minute equaliser? Should McHugh, who saw yellow instead of black a minute beforehand, even have been on the pitch? As for Costello's winner, here was the ultimate example of the new advantage rule coming back to haunt a losing team.

Cavan boss Peter Reilly had no doubt that the officiating gods had conspired against the underdog.

"The last three or four minutes for us, the decisions were extremely poor from our side," Reilly said. "Like, Tom Hayes got fouled in our mind up in the corner – no free. Young McHugh, a complete black card offence – yellow card – and then he goes and scores the equaliser.

"And then the last free in, the advantage rule, he puts his hand up, fair enough ... but, in the first half, we had the exact same situation and he put his hand down. He seemed to wait for two seconds longer for Dublin than he did in the first half, but that's life."

Reilly was equally exercised by the match venue, but some of his understandable anger doesn't entirely stand up to video scrutiny.

BRANDISHED

We'll start with McHugh's yellow, brandished after consultation with linesman Eddie Kinsella. From a press box vantage point, it certainly looked as if the Dublin corner-forward – and TG4 Man of the Match – had deliberately pulled Conor Moynagh to the ground.

But McHugh himself was adamant that his own jersey had been pulled by the man in possession and the TV replay confirmed that, while it was a clear initial foul, Moynagh's 'tug' made it look far worse. A pedant might even argue that both men be black carded!

"It's one of those grey ones, isn't it?" Farrell later said. "Whether it's actually a tackle on the ball or is it more cynical? I'm sure Conor will argue that he was trying to play the ball; I know he was saying his jersey was being pulled at the time as he was trying to tackle. But, look, they're the narrow margins."

McHugh survived and – soon after – finished off an excellent move with a nerveless leveller. Even this was shrouded in controversy: Jack McCaffrey had started it all with an attempted shoulder on Hayes (as the duo contested a low ball) that sent the Cavan forward sprawling, with no free awarded.

The final – and ultimately decisive – call was for a foul by Moynagh on lively Dublin sub Gavin Ivory. After advantage was played and Ivory's shot went wide via an upright, the original free was called back. On video rerun, the foul itself was of the soft/borderline variety, but there was no question of too much time being allowed.

As Farrell said: "Well, that's the new rules. The advantage is given and, if it doesn't accrue, it's pulled back and the free is awarded. I thought the referee did the right thing – obviously some Cavan people disagree with that."

Amid all the late acrimony, there's still the big picture of how Dublin overcame adversity to seal a final place against Roscommon on May 3. For much of a first half that finished with the winners trailing 0-7 to 0-5, Farrell's favourites were frustrated by a mixture of Cavan's expertly honed blanket defence and their own errant use of possession.

They hit nine wides before the break (14 in total), including one half-chance of a goal that McCaffrey pulled wide after a trademark explosive solo; Costello had another goal chance repelled by James Farrelly's point-blank save; while a succession of misdirected passes were gobbled up by Cavan's defensive screen.

MISSING

Clearly, too, Dublin were missing Shane Carthy's energy around midfield (Farrell remains unsure of his fitness for the final), while the incisive Joe Dillon and Hayes were proving a real handful.

However, having doubled their lead to four points three minutes after the resumption, the four in a row Ulster champions would only manage one more, Kevin Bouchier, point. Dillon's 46th minute black card – for dragging down the increasingly influential Eric Lowndes – blunted some of their cutting edge, but they were still two up before a superb Costello point from distance kickstarted Dublin's late charge.

Last word to Farrell, who likened his management team to a duck – all calm on the surface while "paddling frantically underneath" – whereas his players, crucially, had held their nerve.

"They're a mature bunch and we've spoken about the need to be patient all week, that it was going to be very frustrating for forwards in particular," he said, while admitting we have yet to see his team's full potential.

"It's something we have discussed, that we have yet to play the type of football we might think we are capable of. But I think a lot of the credit goes to the oppositions as well. The standard is very high and you won't get anything easy," he added.


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