Gilroy's Dubs add style to substance
Allianz Football League Div 1
Pat Gilroy isn't the type to rip the plastic from a cigar, place it in his mouth and declare that he loves it when a plan comes together.
But there had to be a quiet glow of satisfaction within him as he came away from the Athletic Grounds in Armagh on Saturday night, complete with two away points and a performance that carried such a high degree of competence.
Dublin were comfortable and composed here and the project that commenced at the beginning of last season to deliver an extensive makeover to the way they played, and the personnel who execute this style, remains very much in progress.
This was a fourth victory on the road from five since Gilroy and his management whipped out a blank sheet of paper and sought a new template. Thus, they have come away from Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone and Armagh intact.
Previous Dublin teams have achieved victory in some of those places sporadically, but never with that consistency.
There were signs of an evolving game plan too, with less of a defensive hue to them by comparison to last summer, or the previous league campaign when the ploy of positioning defenders in attack and drawing so many players into retreated positions made them hard to beat, but also hard to watch.
This was more expansive. Bernard Brogan enjoyed much more support around him and there were times when the home side, celebrating the refurbishment of the city ground, struggled to keep pace.
The Armagh manager Paddy O'Rourke certainly noticed the difference.
"While last year people looked at them and thought it was Bernard Brogan. I would think he was kept reasonably quiet tonight, but so many other players kicked in with scores."
The bottom line was that Armagh fell four and three points behind in either half, managed to draw level twice, but could then get no further.
Gilroy has sought to dilute any burgeoning expectation that Dublin can at least contest a first Division 1 final since 1999 --and maybe even win a first since 1993 -- because of the raft of players he expects to be missing.
But with the exception of possibly Cork, no other county now looks better equipped to cope with multiple losses than Dublin.
Their choices have grown vast. Armagh were without Ronan Clarke and their Crossmaglen contingent which, in the context of reserves, was a far greater debit than the loss to Dublin of their Kilmacud players, some of whom could conceivably form two thirds of their defence in the summer.
An email sent around last Friday containing the Dublin team detailed a list of 10 players unavailable through injury that didn't include anyone from Kilmacud. It was a measure of the depth that Dublin are trading in now.
"Two years ago we were trying to get 30 guys around the place who would really be competitive," acknowledged Gilroy. "We are missing a lot of fellas who were there last year. There are a lot of new lads there. It is adding more pressure within the panel."
He was, however, non committal on whether Dublin are "going places."
"It's good to win away in a place like Armagh. You would have to be happy with it. I don't know whether we're going places. It is February 5, there is a lot of the year to be played yet."
There was a pace and strength in their game, evident from early on, that Armagh had difficulty coping with.
Diarmuid Connolly, a rejuvenated figure who may not have fitted into last year's scheme of things, bagged an early goal after Brendan Donaghy carelessly gave possession away to Brogan in the third minute.
Such mistakes were common place throughout, but the swiftness of Dublin's approach, through Brogan, Michael Dara Macauley, Kevin McManamon, James McCarthy and Connolly always gave them an edge.
At the other end, Gareth Swift again exposed the vulnerability in the air of Dublin's stand-in full-back Sean Murray and, with Charlie Vernon, was the driving force behind Armagh's first recovery, eventually helping himself to four points.
Vernon's constant driving runs from midfield had his opponent Denis Bastick in a spin and his goal midway through the half from one of those runs, brought Armagh level at 1-2 each.
But by the break Dublin were three clear, 1-7 to 1-4, with Eoghan O'Gara playing a direct part in four of those scores. O'Gara's willingness to pop the ball immediately for colleagues around him suggests he may be ready to take his game on another level this season.
Armagh chased hard in the third quarter, led by a revived Steven McDonnell, who had struggled in the opening half.
His point from a free with the outside of his right boot from 45 metres out near the sideline was an uplifting score that O'Rourke was sure would lead to victory.
"I thought we were going to win the game (at that point)," said O'Rourke.
"Momentum was with us. We just needed to go one up and we didn't do that. We conceded a poor goal at the other end."
That goal was Dublin's cue to finish off the game. Philip McEvoy had made two important saves from McManamon in the first half and Connolly after the break, but he was slow off his line to deal with an O'Gara delivery and Brogan nipped in to steer home with his hand.
From an ordinary night by his standards, Brogan had advanced his tally to 1-3, yet Donaghy will have felt he did as much as he could in his company.
Dublin pushed on from there through Paul Flynn and Brogan's third, which involved slick teamwork from Macauley, Barry Cahill and Bryan Cullen.
For Armagh the division could now be a struggle. Billy Joe Padden started well on his league debut for his adopted county, but faded against an impressive McCarthy, but Vernon, Swift and McDonnell give them some hope.
"It is a major step up from where we were last year," said O'Rourke. "It is a great stimulator, it's a great division and games like that will only get the team prepared for what is ahead later in the year."
For Dublin there is Croke Park to look forward to in four of their next five outings. The progress shows no sign of abating.
Scorers -- Dublin: B Brogan 1-3, D Connolly 1-1, T Quinn (1f), K McManamon 0-2 each, MD Macauley, D Lally, P Flynn, E O'Gara all 0-1 each. Armagh: S McDonnell (2f), G Swift 0-4 each, C Vernon 1-1, BJ Padden, M O'Rourke 0-1 each.
Dublin -- S Cluxton; A Hubbard, S Murray, M Fitzsimons; D Lally, J McCarthy, P Casey; D Bastick, MD Macauley; B Cullen, K McManamon, D Connolly; B Brogan, E O'Gara, T Quinn. Subs: P Flynn for Quinn (47), B Cahill for Bastick (51), A Brogan for Connolly (59), P Andrews for O'Gara (64).
Armagh -- P McEvoy; V Martin, B Donaghy, A Mallon; K Dyas, C McKeever, P Duffy; K Toner, C Vernon; R Grugan, BJ Padden, M Mackin; S McDonnell, G Swift, B Mallon. Subs: F Moriarty for Martin (19), A Duffy for Mackin (48), M O'Rourke for Mallon (50), C Clarke for Padden (56), G McParland for Grugan (62).
Ref -- J McQuillan (Cavan).