Dublin learning to seal the deal
A common thread runs through all six Dublin victories that have booked their place in a Division 1 league final for the first time in 12 years, a thread that underlines a stronger mentality in a squad that faces a third championship under Pat Gilroy's command.
It's a stubbornness when things get tight, an unwillingness not to cough up an advantage when it is gained. Put simply, Dublin have fine-tuned the art of closing out a game in this league.
Every time opponents have come breathing down the necks of this Dublin team over the last two months, they have found a response.
That wasn't the case of course last August when they couldn't rescue themselves against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Having led by five points for much of the match, that lead was cut down to two when Donncha O'Connor converted a penalty after Ross McConnell's challenge on substitute Colm O'Neill.
Dublin led again by three -- but a series of fouls conceded eventually left them trailing by two points in injury-time and the game was gone from their grasp.
It showed a lingering weakness after a summer of so much progress. But over the course of this league they have worked hard to exorcise the ghost of that championship exit.
When Armagh, Kerry and Mayo drew level over the last few weeks after eating into significant leads, Dublin were able to engineer momentum again.
Down and Monaghan both led after being behind but found an impressive second kick from Dublin -- and Cork were also warded off when they came within a point.
It reflects a Dublin team that appears to be willing to ride out any storm, a mentality that has made them the most difficult team around to beat.
How Dublin have exorcised the ghost of last year's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Cork:
Saturday, February 5
Athletic Grounds: Dublin 2-12 Armagh 1-11
Dublin enjoyed leads of four and three points, but twice Armagh pegged them back. When Stevie McDonnell landed a spectacular point from a free near the sideline, 45 metres out, Armagh manager Paddy O'Rourke was convinced they would win the game.
But an opportunist goal from Bernard Brogan -- who nipped in to steer an Eoghan O'Gara delivery home with his fist -- kept the home side at bay.
Saturday, February 19
Croke Park: Dubin 3-13 Cork 0-16
Dublin led by three points at the break but required smart saves off the line from Stephen Cluxton and Paul Casey to avoid being overtaken in the third quarter.
Cork got the deficit down to one point by the 50th minute but got no further and Dublin won by six.
Saturday February 26
Croke Park: Dublin 3-10 Kerry 1-15
Dublin were cruising with 10 minutes left with Michael Darragh Macauley's point giving them a 3-9 to 1-11 lead. But a stellar finish from Colm Cooper brought Kerry level by the 69th minute and put them in a strong position to win.
Enter Bernard Brogan, Outplayed for much of the game by Marc O Se, he landed a winner going into added time.
Sunday, March 13
Croke Park: Dublin 0-13 Monaghan 1-9.
Similar to Armagh in that Dublin twice lost healthy leads but scrambled to survive. Monaghan found themselves down 0-6 to 0-1 after 20 minutes but early in the second half they had established a 1-6 to 0-6 lead.
Seven unanswered points put Dublin in another comfortable position but Monaghan reduced it to one in a tight finish.
Sunday, March 20
Croke Park: Dublin 4-15 Mayo 3-13.
Dublin built up an impressive 14-point lead in the opening 23 minutes thanks to a hat-trick of goals by Diarmuid Connolly. But for the next 22 minutes Mayo chipped away at that lead and by the 45th minute they were on level terms thanks to three goals.
Dublin dusted themselves down at that point, halted Mayo in their tracks and never allowed them any further ground. In the closing 25 minutes they kicked on to win by five points.
Saturday, April 2
Croke Park: Dublin 2-10 Down 0-13
Dublin were two points clear after 55 minutes, but came under pressure in the last 15 minutes as three unanswered Down points gave them the advantage going into injury-time.
The response was the same as it has been all season.
Bernard Brogan kicked a point and then set up brother Alan for the clinching goal, via a desperate defensive error by Kalum King.