Gilroy happy as own goal helps Dubs 'win ugly'
As Bryan Cullen hoisted the Delaney Cup skyward and began to clear his throat for his acceptance speech, the Wexford management and players were still gathered around their tearful goalkeeper Anthony Masterson in an attempt to console him.
With his head in his hands, the pain was perhaps being felt more forcefully by him than any of his colleagues because of the moment at the end of the third quarter that changed the course of this game.
In his speech, Cullen suggested to the Wexford players that, like his own Dublin team, they'll feel that "the season is only starting now".
That sentiment didn't reconcile with Masterson or the colleagues gathered around him in the middle of the field as they reflected on a glorious chance spurned.
This was their biggest shot at history. Wexford haven't won a senior provincial football title in 66 years but when Redmond Barry ran around Stephen Cluxton on 44 minutes after an incisive build-up involving Brian Malone and substitute PJ Banville, the path to glory really opened up for them.
But, like Louth 12 months earlier, they perished on one unfortunate moment at the Canal End goal that turned this game and Masterson was at the centre of it.
Opting to punch a Mossie Quinn delivery into his area instead of catching it, the clearance ricocheted off Graeme Molloy with Bernard Brogan in the vicinity and rolled agonisingly into his own net.
No wonder Jason Ryan declared himself "sick" of losing to Dublin.
It was liberation for a pedestrian Dublin side that had sleepwalked their way through much of the first half and showed so little drive for the nine minutes before the Barry goal that it only served to invite Wexford on. Either side of the interval Dublin didn't score for 24 minutes and in that period you could see Wexford's belief growing.
Pat Gilroy got it right afterwards when he admitted his team had won "ugly". But ugly is what Dublin normally are these days. With Bernard Brogan misfiring badly and eventually making way after a horrid afternoon, it was left to older brother Alan to apply the key touches that allowed Dublin to breathe a little easier.
Alan Brogan's form so far this season has been so good that if a seasonal order of merit existed on a week-to-week basis he'd occupy top spot right now, marginally ahead of Kildare's John Doyle and Kerry's Declan O'Sullivan. For the third game in a row his creativity and finished product made it easier to make a case for him as man of the match.
However, Bernard is struggling to find the form that made him Footballer of the Year in 2010. Out of 10 shots from open play he scored just two points, with three dropping short and another five drifting wide.
Whether Gilroy should have replaced him when he did in the 61st minute after registering his fifth wide opens another debate. Do you remove the man that is most likely to create something around your opponents' goal or do you make a statement to the rest of the squad that, no matter how good you can be or who you are, if it's not happening you are not indispensable?
In the end, Gilroy made the big and riskier call to remove his marquee name from the action, a move that may yield dividends the next day because Brogan cannot surely be so profligate again. Against Wexford, with a second chance still alive, it was that little bit easier.
If Bernard Brogan had been on his game then the Masterson/Molloy faux pas may not have been so relevant and the jury wouldn't be retiring to their hotel for the night to sit on the verdict for a little longer.
The victory has thrown up more questions than it answered for Dublin in terms of personnel selection and the balance between the system they adopt and the level of individual flair within the team. Dublin are trying to control games at a pace that doesn't necessarily suit some of their players and that was never more evident that when they had to chase the game after Barry's goal.
Their first goal was freakish but their second, five minutes later, involved a moment of individual decision making that Dublin may have to rely more upon if they are to move to the next level.
Spotting a gap and accelerating through it at pace, James McCarthy was probably doing something that's outside the remit of a Dublin half-back under the system but he went for it anyway. It took him past Daithi Watters and, with a piledriver past a shaken Masterson, the gap had opened in their favour to five points (2-10 to 1-8).
To their credit, Wexford didn't crumble and with Ben Brosnan growing in prominence and building on a competent performance from placed balls, they remained in touch.
Picking holes in this Dublin defence is quite a task, however, and that at least is a comfort to Dublin, with Rory O'Carroll again commanding against Barry and Mick Fitzsimons throwing up the barriers around Ciaran Lyng after Lyng had taken him for two points in the opening 21 minutes. Kevin Nolan's efficiency at half-back was another strong pillar of their defensive effort, while Paul Flynn's work-rate from the half-forward line was again exceptional.
The second of those Lyng points made it 0-6 to 0-3 and was the cue for Wexford to raise their game as Eric Bradley settled into his role as an extra midfielder.
Both sides were mapped out with security in mind and that led to trench warfare in the middle third, where the pressure on the man in possession was intense. It made for a poor spectacle and continued that way until the goals acted as a release valve for a little more entertainment and cutting edge.
Dublin went in at the break ahead by 0-7 to 0-6 and returned for the second half without Eoghan O'Gara, who picked up a wrist injury. O'Gara had been largely ineffective anyway and with Diarmuid Connolly also making way four minutes earlier, two players that the management have invested a lot of time and faith in were gone. In Connolly's place Mossie Quinn didn't enjoy much profit either and he eventually made way himself for Ross McConnell.
Wexford will be heartbroken and even the great optimism of Ryan will find it difficult to resonate with them this week. Still, Molloy applied sufficient pressure on Brogan to contribute to his off day, captain David Murphy orchestrated a lot in his role as Wexford's 'extra' defender, while Bradley and Adrian Flynn can also be satisfied with their contributions.
Cullen's contention that the season is only beginning may be true but for Wexford it will feel like the end of their world for now when it dawns on them just how close they came.
Scorers -- Dublin: J McCarthy, G Molloy (own goal) 1-0 each, A Brogan, B Brogan (1f) 0-3 each, S Cluxton ('45), P Flynn, B Cullen, D Bastick, R McConnell, K McManamon 0-1 each. Wexford: B Brosnan 0-9 (5f, 2 '45), R Barry 1-0, C Lyng 0-2, A Flynn 0-1.
Dublin -- S Cluxton 8; P Conlon 7, R O'Carroll 8, M Fitzsimons 7; J McCarthy 7, G Brennan 6, K Nolan 7; D Bastick 7, E Fennell 5; P Flynn 8, A Brogan 8, B Cullen 7; D Connolly 4, B Brogan 6, E O'Gara 5. Subs: T Quinn 4 for Connolly (31), K McManamon 6 for O'Gara (h-t), B Cahill 6 for Fennell (51), D Henry for B Brogan (61), R McConnell for Quinn (68).
Wexford -- A Masterson 6; G Molloy 7, J Wadding 7, B Malone 6; D Murphy 7, A Flynn 7, A Doyle 6; D Watters 7, R Quinlivan 6; E Bradley 7, B Brosnan 8, C Morris 5; C Lyng 7, R Barry 6, S Roche 4. Subs: PJ Banville 7 for Roche (40), A Morrissey 6 for Malone (54), P Byrne for Morris (62), L Og McGovern for Quinlivan (64).
Ref -- J McQuillan (Cavan)