Saturday 21 April 2018

13-man Dublin through to All Ireland semi-final after tough battle with Donegal

Dublin 1-15 Donegal 1-10

John Small of Dublin in action against Michael Murphy of Donegal
John Small of Dublin in action against Michael Murphy of Donegal

Frank Roche at Croke Park

THE story was that Dublin hadn't been road-tested en route to the All-Ireland series. Well now they have – not so much by Donegal's offensive threat but by crazy circumstance.

The Sam Maguire holders finished this evening's predictably fractious SFC quarter-final with 13 men following two second half red cards – a second-yellow dismissal for Diarmuid Connolly on 47 minutes, following a high tackle on Anthony Thompson, and then a straight red for Eoghan O'Gara.

The Dublin sub was banished in the 73rd minute by Down referee Ciaran Branagan after he consulted with his umpires – although TV replays revealed a harmless open-handed slap on Neil McGee, who was booked for his role in the flashpoint.

The Leinster champions were holding onto a four-point lead when reduced to 13 – soon pared to three when Paddy McBrearty converted a free to cause a frisson of concern for the Hill. 

Bernard Brogan of Dublin is tackled by Donegal players Eamonn McGee, left, Frank McGlynn,7, and Neil McGee
Bernard Brogan of Dublin is tackled by Donegal players Eamonn McGee, left, Frank McGlynn,7, and Neil McGee

And yet it was Dublin who finished with a flourish, substitute Paul Mannion waltzing in on an angled run from the left wing to find himself through on goal. Cue a clinical low finish to stretch the lead to six.

Six injury-time minutes had been called, but this was totally disrupted by stops and starts, extending to over eight. Right at the death, Michael Murphy attempted to drop kick a 13m free through a phalanx of blue jerseys, but the ball was deflected over and Dublin could celebrate a five-point triumph – in adversity, for a change.

They looked to be coasting until the 43rd minute, when Ryan McHugh was at the end of a string of Donegal passes, the last from Eamon McGee, to fist to the net from point-blank range. But, try as they might, they never got closer than three points in that second half, with Ciaran Kilkenny controlling matters from his new deep-lying half-back role and Kevin McManamon (as ever) punching holes at the far end on his way to scoring 0-3 from play.

We came to Croke Park wondering if there one giant kick left in this Donegal team? Would they have the legs to stay the pace with those thoroughbreds in Sky Blue? 

And could Rory Gallagher, just like his predecessor in 2014, concoct a plan to unhinge the All-Ireland holders and 1/6 favourites?

The early portents weren't promising: straight from the throw-in Brian Fenton played in Connolly, who capitalised on a slip from his shadow, Martin O'Reilly, to go one-on-one with Mark Anthony McGinley.

Ryan McHugh of Donegal celebrates scoring a goal in the 45th minute
Ryan McHugh of Donegal celebrates scoring a goal in the 45th minute

The Donegal 'keeper won that mind game, saving with his feet, but Dublin still made the early inroads during a cagey first ten minutes, edging two clear via a nerveless '45' from Dean Rock and then a point from play from the advancing Philly McMahon.

In the absence of the injured James McCarthy, whose Friday night selection proved a not-unexpected ruse, McMahon was detailed to pick up Murphy whenever the Donegal skipper switched inside.

Murphy wasn't helped by some badly over-hit deliveries from his wasteful teammates – nor can his mindset have been helped by a 14th minute yellow card for a high foul into the face of Fenton.

Yet, shortly before that, his tap-over free had got Donegal off the mark and then he nailed a '45' to draw the sides level on 19 minutes.

In truth, Dublin could and should have been well clear, after Connolly spurned a second glorious goal chance on 16 minutes. This time he took a pass from the advancing John Small and skipped inside a flailing tackle – but all the good work undone when he skewed narrowly wide of the right upright.

The second quarter, though, belonged to Dublin who outscored their error-prone opponents seven points to two after Murphy's equaliser.

Three points on the spin from a Rock free, the dangerous Kevin McManamon and the increasingly influential Ciaran Kilkenny left them in the ascendant. Murphy's long-range free was quickly countered by a stunning Connolly effort, a Paddy Andrews score from a near-impossible angle, and then another Rock free. 

Anthony Thompson, punching a rare hole through the centre of Dublin's defence, hit a riposte that was again negated by a sumptuous Connolly point, this time off his left foot to leave the champions 0-9 to 0-4 clear.

The stage looked set for a procession. Instead, mayhem was the prevailing theme of what followed – even if the margin remained five at the finish.

SCORERS - Dublin: D Rock 0-5 (4f, 1 '45'), P Mannion 1-1, K McManamon 0-3, D Connolly 0-2, P McMahon, P Andrews, C Kilkenny, J Cooper 0-1 each. Donegal: M Murphy 0-6 (5f, 1 '45'), R McHugh 1-0, P McBrearty 0-3 (2f), A Thompson 0-1.

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; P McMahon, J Cooper, D Byrne; C Kilkenny, C O'Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; P Flynn, K McManamon, D Connolly; B Brogan, P Andrews, D Rock.  Subs: D Daly for Brogan (48), D Bastick for Macauley (53), P Mannion for Andrews (57), M Fitzsimons for Cooper (temp sub 68-75), E O'Gara for McManamon (68), E Lowndes for Rock (73).

DONEGAL: MA McGinley; K Lacey, E McGee, N McGee; M O'Reilly, P McGrath, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, O Mac Niallais; F McGlynn, M McElhinney, R McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, E McHugh.  Subs: C Gillespie for Mac Niallais (ht), L McLoone for Kavanagh (42), C Toye for Thompson (48), M McHugh for E McGee (55), C Thompson for McElhinney (61), C McFadden for Lacey (71).

REF: C Branagan (Down).

ATT: 82,300

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