A KEVIN McManamon goal six minutes from time helped Dublin finally shake off a determined Dubs Stars effort in their Evening Herald/ Dublin Bus Dubs Stars challenge match at a bitterly cold Kiltipper Road yesterday afternoon.
DUBS STARS 3-8
The St Jude's player may have scored more crucial goals in recent times but there was no mistaking the classy finish that eventually separated these evenly matched sides in a contest that belied its early season nature in terms of competitiveness and quality.
Alan Brogan for one carried on from where he left off last September with a cultured cameo over the opening 20 minutes in which the Footballer of the Year amassed 1-2 to keep his side in contention after a lively Dubs Stars beginning.
There were other strong showings from the versatile Declan Lally at wing-back while on the other wing Ballymun Kickhams' John Small made the seemingly huge leap from minor football with ease in another composed outing.
Naturally, given the tightness of the encounter, not all the chief protagonists were decked out in blue with local hero Paul Hudson adorning the occasion with two sublime scores for the Dubs Stars while former Armagh senior John Murtagh showed his inter-county status with a lively performance throughout.
With no injury concerns derived from the day and the cobwebs thoroughly blown off in the chill Tallaght air, Dublin manager Pat Gilroy cut a content figure as he assessed the afternoon's events.
"It was good to get going again and it was reasonably competitive in the first half. I think lads ran out of steam a bit in the second half but sure it was grand and a good start to the year.
"You don't learn too much from days like these but it was a good occasion for the club and it's good to see some fellas who have really looked after themselves since we last saw them and we'll get into the serious work on Tuesday.
"We've been away on holidays but I think everyone is refreshed and looking forward to getting back training again", said Gilroy.
Refreshed they looked indeed with Philly McMahon enjoying a cracking battle with Ken Darcy on the edge of the square, which finished just about honours even, although Darcy will have enjoyed his superlative strike on 20 minutes that opened the Dubs Stars' goal account.
By then, both Hudson and Murtagh had landed a brace of points apiece to cancel out a wonderful Alan Brogan goal in the fourth minute, when he collected possession 60 metres from goal before embarking on a trademark solo run which culminated in a precise finish to the top right hand corner of Shane Supple's goal.
Michael Darragh Macauley added a second Dublin goal eight minutes later after a typical surging run from midfield but his opposite number, Ross McConnell, did likewise at the opposite end in the 23rd minute to limit his side's arrears to just a point, 2-6 to 2-5, by the interval.
As Gilroy acknowledged, the second-half lacked the precision of the opening period with the only scores of the first 15 minutes coming from placed balls by Darcy and Murtagh as the Dubs Stars looked set to record an unlikely victory.
Two quickfire points from Castleknock's Rory Corcoran and Miceál McCarthy swung the tie back in Dublin's favour as the half progressed only for McConnell to land a glorious '45' into the teeth of the breeze to restore parity with eight minutes remaining.
McManamon's goal, greeted with slightly less enthusiasm than his previous effort against Kerry, and Blaine Kelly's third free of the day looked to have handed Dublin a definitive lead but Philly Ryan showcased his exceptional goal-scoring abilities with another sublime finish entering injury time.
It took McCarthy to settle matters soon after as Dublin eked out a two-point win, but the result was secondary as Gilroy focussed on Dublin's upcoming O'Byrne Cup clash with Carlow next Sunday.
"We've a bit of catching up to do because others have probably been doing a bit but the guys look like they're in reasonable enough shape and I suppose we'll find out on Tuesday," said Gilroy.
"We only have 13 of last year's panel available for the O'Byrne Cup so we'll be forced to have 11 or so lads that weren't involved last year.
"It's a good opportunity to see how they get on and we should be closer to our full panel by the 20th of January with lads back from injury.
"Bernard (Brogan) is the only one who probably won't be in contention for the start of the National League but, generally speaking, we seem to be in good order and we'll play it by ear to see how everyone goes," concluded Gilroy, who also confirmed Bryan Cullen will remain as captain for the O'Byrne Cup at the very least.