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Dublin must regain control if they have any chance of retaining the Sam Maguire

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Paul Flynn. Photo: Sportsfile

Paul Flynn. Photo: Sportsfile

Paul Flynn. Photo: Sportsfile

Among the first players to vacate the dressing-room in MacHale Park on Saturday night and board the bus parked behind the new main stand were the two who had seen red in the second half of a match Dublin would rather forget -- but can't if they are to get themselves back to the proper pitch that they hit for so much of last season.

Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly sat opposite each other at the back of the bus and naturally the mood of both looked subdued. There was nothing much to say on a night that their manager Pat Gilroy had described as their worst for three years in terms of performance.

Minutes earlier Gilroy had delivered that most damning indictment of his Dublin teams since the "startled earwigs" analogy in the aftermath of the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final rout at the hands of Kerry.

Gilroy could be considered one of the most measured and balanced Gaelic games managers around. He never seeks to dress up or dress down a result or a performance for anything more or less than it is. If it deserves praise it gets it, if there is criticism he lays that out too in an even-handed way.

Honesty

And when matters of indiscipline raise their head there is generally an honesty about his appraisal of what has happened.

Arsene Wenger he most certainly is not and the idea that a TV channel or a newspaper has been responsible does not enter his thinking, at least publicly anyway. At all times, his sides have accepted responsibility for their own behaviour.

So when he came to assessing the extension to seven of the number of disciplinary issues on the field of play that have either led to red cards or retrospective suspensions, on Saturday night there was no attempt to portray it as anything other than what it is -- a disciplinary problem that they have to deal with urgently before it gets out of hand and sends their season into a tailspin.

"We really have to sit down and look at that sharply or else we will have a very short year," said Gilroy, acknowledging the "very poor discipline" they had shown.

Gilroy has chosen, at times, to defend the actions which have led to some of the red cards his players have picked up so far this season.

James McCarthy looked a little unlucky when he raised his elbow in an act of protection as much as aggression as Alan Freeman moved in to tackle him with forceful intent during the first half of the fog-abandoned match with Mayo in February. A subsequent hearing saw the Central Hearings Committee agree with an original proposal to ban him for the obligatory match.

Philly McMahon's double yellow cards against Armagh were more down to awkwardness than any act of cynicism, a fact acknowledged by the manager afterwards, while there was certain frustration in Bryan Cullen when he caught Paul Cahillane late after himself being the victim of a stray punch to the side of his midriff just seconds earlier. He took the one-match ban proposed, however.

But on Saturday night it was frustration of a different kind that led to such a stark numerical reduction, an intolerance that appears to be creeping into their game as the levels of attention that go with their new status of All-Ireland champions increases.

For Flynn his retaliatory strike at Colm Boyle was out of character but it came at a time when Dublin had just conceded three quick-fire points after half-time that had put the game out of sight. How much of it was down to the frustration of the night as it was the close attention of Boyle?

Connolly's second yellow card was also needless but for those present there was a feeling that it had been waiting to happen. Connolly has sailed close to the wind already this year, having ended last season somewhat fortunate to be cleared to play in an All-Ireland final.

Yes, in last year's semi-final there had been provocation initially and he had pushed with an open hand repeatedly. And yes, Donegal's Marty Boyle's action in falling to the ground so easily certainly helped his case. But it had to have been a marginal call to clear him, helped by the sentiment of Dublin's advancement to an All-Ireland final for the first time in 16 years.

In January he rode his luck again when the Leinster Competition Controls Committee decide not to pursue a charge against him for an incident that saw his knee catch Ciaran Fitzpatrick's head with the ball long gone.

Form

Three weeks ago Connolly was being mentioned as a potential Footballer of the Year in the making, such was the rich vein of form he had struck on.

His performances to crush Laois and Armagh on successive weekends suggested a new-found maturity that had moved him on to the next level of seniority in this Dublin team. On Saturday night he didn't live up to that.

Improving discipline on and off the field has been one of the cornerstones of Gilroy's work with this Dublin team over the previous three years. He had moved them away from the machismo of the previous regime to a game plan where controlled aggression in the tackle was their bedrock. Control appears to be loosening, however, and the last three months will be viewed a step back in that context.

Two years ago Kerry, as All-Ireland champions, succumbed to whatever provocation comes the way of champions and as a consequence they lost Tomas O Se and Paul Galvin at a key time of the year. They were sitting ducks after that.

Dublin need to be mindful that the same fate potentially awaits them in the months ahead. They are champions. Opponents, administrators and officials will look at them differently, whether they like it or not. That's the reality they have to deal with.

Irish Independent