Saturday 17 November 2018

Dominant Dubs end Rebel road

DUBLIN 1-16 CORK 0-14

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton kicks one of his six points from placed balls in last night’s quarter-final victory over Cork.
Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton kicks one of his six points from placed balls in last night’s quarter-final victory over Cork.

Damian Lawlor

ON a night when Gaelic football was again decried for its cynicism and ruthless winner-takes-all approach, Dublin and Cork served up a delightful feast of open, attacking football to restore confidence in the modern game.

The main event of the evening was certainly a lot more open than the blunt affair that preceded it. In fact, the two games were chalk and cheese. This was open from the off and was peppered with flair and opportunism; Cork clearly targeted the Dublin full back line and went long and high at almost every opportunity. Dublin, meanwhile, felt that the Cork full back line lacked pace and they ran at them time and again. And that only spiced it up nicely for everyone at HQ.

The defeat spells the end for Conor Counihan, who called time on his six-year stint in charge of the team immediately after the game.

At least Counihan and his team went out with a bang last night. They were plucky, gutsy and determined. As the game went on, however, gaps emerged in their defence. But while they could have been torn apart had Dublin converted their raft of goal chances, they hung on in there and trailed by just two at the break, 0-9 to 0-7.

At the end there were only five points between the sides, although the Dubs had five gilt-edged goal chances before they finally broke through. One, from Bernard Brogan, hit the butt of the post, another from Michael Darragh Macauley was superbly saved by Alan Quirke and the third time Paul Flynn missed the target and blazed over.

A fourth time they converged on the Cork goalmouth only to see the ball cleared, illegally, by Michael Shields, the Cork full-back, who handled on the ground in the square. David Coldrick decided against consulting his umpires and Cork breathed again. In an end to end encounter, Daniel Goulding set the tempo for an entertaining night with a sweetly curled left footer to open the scoring. Dublin dropped a few balls short in the early stages and it took them a while to get going.

They largely depended on Stephen Cluxton's marksmanship from the placed ball in the first quarter. Cluxton features on three-quarters of the fantasy football teams in the land and it's no great shock that he captains 45 per cent of them as well.

Like an NFL place-kicker, he emerged four times in the first half to effortlessly slot the ball over the bar with that casual rhythm of his. With Bernard Brogan starved of decent ball up front, this reliable kicking kept the Dubs ticking over.

Cork, meanwhile, were full of belief. They fired seriously impressive points in what was their best display of the season; the pick being John O'Rourke's beauty to lead 0-6 to 0-5 after 20 minutes.

But then the Dubs started piercing their armour. Those goal chances went a begging at an alarming rate and there would have been some disappointment in their dressing room that they were only two to the good when they went in to rehydrate and reassess.

The 70,018 crowd licked their lips in anticipation of a cracking finale and the teams didn't disappoint them. Diarmuid Connolly fired Dublin's fifth gilt-edged goal chance narrowly wide shortly after the restart. Finally, however, the Dubs found a chink. A lovely arrowed ball was angled to the hard-working Paul Mannion who laid off to the incoming Jack McCaffrey, so often a lighthouse for the Dubs in any storm they've faced this year.

With surgical precision, he clipped the ball to the top right of the net and the Hill came alive. Moments later Cluxton added another free. A five-point gap had opened up in the space of four minutes.

Just as we prepared to write their obituary, Daniel Goulding hit two frees as Cork tucked in behind their opponents and clung on as the sides rounded the bend and eyed the home straight. The impressive Brian Hurley grabbed a loose ball on the 21-yard line and fired over too, 1-11 to 0-11 with 25 minutes to go.

Cue a series of substitutions which disrupted the flow of the game. Cork shifted the tiring Alan O'Connor into full-forward and then replaced him with Donncha O'Connor. They also brought Paul Kerrigan on but started looking increasingly vulnerable on the left flank of their defence.

Only another superb block from Quirke denied McCaffrey a second goal. At the other end Hurley fired over to reduce the margin to two.

Jim Gavin took Johnny Cooper off and brought in Philly McMahon to tighten his rearguard. The introduction of Dean Rock, however, was most significant – he hit two crucial points which paved the way for the Dubs to stroll home, albeit a little sloppily.

Rock has surely laid down a marker for a starting role next time out, but with so many well-known faces on the bench there are no guarantees.

That's a nice problem for the manager as they head into the last four. For Conor Counihan, a promising era looks to have ended, sadly with an air of unfulfillment.

Scorers – Dublin: S Cluxton (0-6, 0-3f, 3 '45), J McCaffrey (1-0), P Flynn (0-2), , C Kilkenny (0-2) D Rock (0-2), B Brogan (0-1f), MD MacAuley (0-1), K McManamon (0-1), D Bastick (0-1)

Cork: D Goulding (0-6, 3f, 3'45), B Hurley (0-1), D Cahalane (0-2f), M Collins (0-2, 1f), C Sheehan (0-1), J O'Rourke (0-1), J Loughrey (0-1)

Dublin: S Cluxton, J Cooper, R O'Carroll, K O'Brien, J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey, MD MacAuley, C O'Sullivan, P Flynn, C Kilkenny, B Cullen, D Connolly, P Mannion, B Brogan. Subs: D Rock for B Cullen (40), P McMahon for J Cooper (50), K McManamon for P Mannion (54), D Bastick for MD MacAuley (60), E O'Gara for C Kilkenny (65)

Cork: A Quirke, E Cadogan, M Shields, T Clancy, D Cahalane, G Canty, J Loughrey, A O'Connor, P O'Neill, M Collins, A Walsh, J O'Rourke, D Goulding, C Sheehan, B Hurley. Subs: P Kissane for E Cadogan (inj h/t), P Kerrigan for J O'Rourke (42), J O'Sullivan for Thomas Clancy (inj 47), D O'Connor for A O'Connor (50), Tomas Clancy for G Canty (57)

Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)

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