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Dubs have to win ugly

DUBLIN footballers have dragged themselves back to the summit of Leinster football but there is a mountain to climb if they are to end their 16-year All-Ireland famine any month soon.

That is the first conclusion to draw from yesterday’s hotchpotch performance against a Wexford team who travelled to Croke Park as 7/1 outsiders and left GAA headquarters wondering if they’ll ever have a better chance to end a provincial famine now stretching back 66 years.

You can’t be definitive about these matters, but it’s eminently possible Dublin would not have prevailed without being gifted one of the most surreal goals this stadium has witnessed since … well, since Joe Sheridan’s ‘touch-down’ in last year’s final. The match stats will tell you that Wexford full-back Graeme Molloy was the hapless scorer of that 51st-minute own goal; they won’t tell you that heartbroken ’keeper Anthony Masterson was entirely to blame.

SOARED

Masterson’s GUBU moment came when he advanced from his line to deal with a speculative delivery from Tomás Quinn. Once he made the decision to come, the occasion demanded that he catch the ball; instead he knocked it straight against the back-pedalling Molloy and the rest is history. Maybe even history denied, because Wexford led by two points at the time, their self-belief having soared either side of half-time as Dublin went into their shell, a pale shadow of the All-Ireland contenders they’ve supposedly become.

Jason Ryan’s men scored the last three points of an underwhelming first half to trail by just 0-7 to 0-6; the standard of play wasn’t much better on the resumption but when Wexford scored the next 1-1, they led by a goal and a first Leinster title since 1945 had become a live prospect. Brian Malone made the key incision and PJ Banville the final pass in the build-up to that 44th-minute goal from the unmarked Redmond Barry, who was left with the routine task of rounding Stephen Cluxton. But Masterson’s gaffe changed the entire complexion of this contest; Dublin then tagged on a point from Alan Brogan and a 57th-minute goal from marauding wing-back James McCarthy. McCarthy’s slaloming run through a parting Wexford defence was capped by an emphatic finish – the perfect riposte to critics who had questioned his retention after the Kildare semi-final.

The Ballymun Kickhams man’s defensive contribution was also much improved, including one potential goal-saving block on Eric Bradley. That second goal left Dublin with a scarcely deserved five-point cushion. You waited for them to kick on against a deflated Wexford; instead they were outscored four points to two in the home straight, the excellent Ben Brosnan duly bringing his final haul to a towering 0-9.

For one brief moment, the prospect of a successful comeback even loomed large after Banville’s incisive run and pass released fellow sub Paddy Byrne: but Cluxton stood firm with a priceless 68th-minute block. In his post-match summation, Pat Gilroy suggested that Dublin have learned to “win ugly” and that was one of the few positives he could glean from a display that has thrown up numerous selection issues for the Sky Blue boss. Dublin’s misfiring full-forward line – all replaced – is the obvious place to start. It’s not so long ago that Gilroy’s inside trio of the Brogan brothers and Diarmuid Connolly were being lauded as among the most lethal in the country.

Since then, Alan Brogan has relocated to the ‘40’ from where he continues to lead the charge in a standout summer to date. But yesterday his brother, Bernard, wasunrecognisable from the Footballer of the Year who pillaged as he pleased in 2010. You’d never have guessed the scattergun contribution to come when he clipped an incredible point from the right wing inside 20 seconds. But Brogan the Younger would only add another two points, one from play, while hitting five wides and dropping four efforts short, with one or two block-downs for good measure. And so we had the strange sight of Dublin’s go-to forward being subbed after 61 minutes.

By then, Diarmuid Connolly and Eoghan O’Gara had long departed the fray, both held scoreless. An out-of-sorts Quinn would later make the same touchline walk, having himself replaced Connolly before half-time. We all know Connolly is a mercurial talent, but some old infuriating habits have resurfaced in the past two games, with three wides against Kildare, two yesterday, no points and two early substitutions.

O’Gara’s grip on a starting place also looks increasingly tenuous: at least there was no red card here but he contributed little in the first half bar a fine catch to win a converted free. His half-time replacement, Kevin McManamon, proved a far more energetic presence. Needless to say, Bernard Brogan is entitled to one errant day and it’s entirely conceivable that he could shoot the lights out on the August Bank Holiday weekend. But it’s not just up front that Dublin must find a higher gear. Pre-match fears about a one-paced midfield proved on the money, with neither Denis Bastick nor Eamon Fennell exerting a major influence on proceedings.

On this evidence, Dublin need Michael Darragh Macauley back in the engine-room but will his broken finger have healed sufficiently in the next three weeks? If not, the case for recalling either Barry Cahill or Ross McConnell may well gather momentum. For Wexford, the qualifiers now beckon and their championship might still have some distance to run, presuming they quickly recover from this latest gut-wrenching ‘moral victory’. And Dublin? Well, they have the Delaney Cup and a reality check too … and maybe that will be no bad thing as they depart yesterday’s ‘base camp’ in search of Everest.


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