AN unimpressive Dublin side were beaten comprehensively by the Dubs Stars in the annual Evening Herald/ Dublin Bus challenge played at a bitterly cold Lawless Memorial Park, Swords yesterday afternoon.
With Pat Gilroy short of a number of household names, the inexperienced Dublin selection were no match for a vibrant and more cohesive Dubs Stars team who dominated from start to finish and who included the game's most impressive performers.
The full-back line of Philip McMahon, Ian Clarke and Chris Guckian combined well with the latter scoring a superb goal 10 minutes from the end after a marauding run from defence, whilst St Brigid's Seán Murray was particularly prominent at wing-back.
The midfield of Michael Darragh MacAuley and David Henry proved too strong for the more celebrated Dublin pairing of Eamon Fennell and Paul Flynn, and the Dubs Stars half-forward line of Bernard Brogan, Conal Keaney and Blaine Kelly offered a constant scoring threat.
The McManamon brothers were lively throughout, and in addition Andrew Kerin showed his scoring prowess with 1-1 from limited possession. Added to that were the notable contributions of the subs, with Johnny Cooper knocking over two sumptuous points and Denis Carrigan displaying the same application and drive that were a feature of St Mary's long run in the 2009 senior county championship.
For Dublin, Michael Savage made three superb saves over the hour and late call-up Mick Fitzsimons equipped himself well at fullback, with Conor McCormack a tigerish presence to his left at corner back.
After a sluggish start, it was Conal Keaney who opened the scoring with a fifth-minute free and although Dean Rock levelled matters for Dublin with a tidy point five minutes later, the Dubs Stars were very much in the ascendancy with Murray in particular augmenting the attack with some well-timed runs from defence.
In the 12th minute, Savage denied Brogan with an excellent reflex save from close-range but Keaney soon restored the Dubs Stars' lead with a fisted effort after Henry's precise delivery from midfield as Dublin struggled to match the intensity of their opponents.
Three quickfire points in two minutes from Kelly, MacAuley and Kevin McManamon pushed them further ahead prior to Kerin, availing of the experimental rules, rose in the square ahead of Savage to punch home.
Despite a Darren Daly score for Dublin on 23 minutes, the Dubs Stars continued in the ascendancy with Murray kicking a deserved point from distance. And after Savage had bravely foiled Brogan again, it was third time lucky for the St Oliver Plunkett's player who finally netted from MacAuley's pass to help his side to a healthy 11 point (2-7 to 0-2) interval lead.
The game lost some of its competitive edge upon the resumption due to a raft of substitutions and the unbalanced nature of the scoreboard but Dublin kept plugging away and were rewarded with a Quinn free and a fine solo effort from Flynn on his home turf.
However, Kelly and Keaney did likewise for the Dubs Stars to maintain their healthy advantage and Cooper kicked one of the scores of the game from the right-flank to enhance the reputation of the versatile Na Fianna clubman.
Dublin's only prolonged period of pressure coincided with the introduction of Colm Murphy and Seaver midway through the half, with three unanswered points from Quinn, Kelly and Murphy the tangible dividend for their short spell of supremacy but Cooper kicked another gem on 48 minutes to leave ten points between the sides.
Eoghan O'Gara and James Brogan replied for Dublin but the game was up with ten minutes remaining when Guckian combined with McMahon to break up an attack before embarking on an off the ball run which took him the full length of the field and resulted in him gathering possession 15 metres from goal.
The St Jude's lad showed terrific calmness at the end of such a lung bursting run to clinically find the roof of the net to illuminate what was becoming an increasingly dreary afternoon.
Quinn brought a hint of respectability to the scoreboard with an assuredly taken penalty with two minutes remaining but it was fitting that MacAuley, who showed great promise throughout, had the final word with a point in injury time as the Dubs Stars cruised to their 3-13 to 1-10 victory.
Gilroy, by his own admission, was none too downbeat at the final whistle given the experimental nature of his own line-up, the early season feel to proceedings and the performances of the Dubs Stars.
"It was the first game of the year and some of the Dubs Stars played very well and obviously they would've been in our squad. On the whole, it was a worthwhile exercise," added Gilroy.
With the Dubs facing Wexford in the O'Byrne Cup next weekend, the panel has an unsettled look to it and Gilroy has opted to choose his squad on a game-by-game basis.
"We have 18 lads tied up with their colleges for the coming weeks so we'll have an experimental team for Wexford next weekend.
"We're back in training next Tuesday evening and after the break it's great to be back at it."
On that optimistic note, Gilroy headed for the warmth and sanctuary of the dressing room area in Fingallians with much to ponder ahead of what could be a defining campaign for Dublin as they look to build on five consecutive Leinster titles and erase the disappointment of two heavy All-Ireland quarter-final defeats.
On yesterday's viewing, that may be easier said than done.