Friday 17 August 2018

Comment: A Dublin defeat would no longer be a sensation - now it's verging on being an absurd notion

Brian Howard of Dublin during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Dublin and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brian Howard of Dublin during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Dublin and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

For all the systems that reduce football's scope for free expression there is still room for elements that might be considered too plain for the modern coaching manual.

Nothing more sophisticated than a high ball into the square breached the Dublin defence in the eighth minute of the first half and created that rare experience of being a witness to a moment of Dublin vulnerability. But added vigilance, and a greater command of possession, eventually closed off that avenue to Galway.

Whoever makes it to the All-Ireland football final, be it Tyrone or Monaghan, will cling to anything that might give them hope that Dublin are beatable - beyond the pat line that all teams are beatable. They must believe that the long unbeaten championship run of Jim Gavin's reign won't stretch to a 28th successive match, and that the four-in-a-row will fail when least expected. That they can be the architects of possibly the most unexpected result since Offaly floored Kerry in 1982.

It has long gone past the point where a Dublin defeat would be a sensation. Now it is verging on being an absurd notion.

Galway, once they defeated Kerry in the opening phase of the new quarter-final format, took on the demeanour of a team that would be going to the final using the most direct route possible: with three straight wins. They would most likely not have to deal with Dublin until the final.

Last weekend's loss to Monaghan in Salthill turned that on its head and stalled their momentum. Playing Dublin is no place to be when in anything other than mint condition and a stable mindset. Two points down at half-time, they were still in the game, but their finishing didn't reach the standard a team hoping to cause an upset of this magnitude needed. Of 18 first-half scoring chances, they bagged eight. Dublin, on more limited possession, scored 10 of their 12 scoring chances over the same period.

The most blatant miss was Eamonn Brannigan's first-half penalty, won when their earlier goalscorer Damien Comer again caused ructions in the Dublin full-back line, winning possession when he made a clever angled run away from Cian O'Sullivan, then fouled by the retreating Jonny Cooper. Brannigan shot low and with some pace but Stephen Cluxton needs a better shot than that to beat him. He got down smartly and used a strong left hand to divert the ball clear. To add salt to the wound, Shane Walsh screwed the '45 that resulted wide, missing his first free into the bargain.

The Con O'Callaghan goal, for a team carved around solid defence, was a show of naivety on Galway's part, with Sean Kelly caught out by the brilliant vision and long handpass of Jack McCaffrey - deservedly chosen as the man of the match for a multitude of tasks done well. Niall Scully took the pass and set up O'Callaghan for a well-worked finish. Tyrone or Monaghan would back themselves to prevent a goal like that but they know how difficult it is to reduce all the danger when it is popping up in so many parts of the field, players shooting off either foot, constantly switching the play. It must be like those moments where the prison guards try to break the captive by playing wall-to-wall dirge from a dire outfit, say Smokie for example. You can only hold out for so long.

Only Mayo have managed to subdue the Dublin attack right through, enough to give them a winning platform; their issue, and ultimate downfall, was at the other end.

Galway couldn't make the same use of Comer in the second half and their attack was almost completely extinguished by Dublin's heightened intensity and focus. But the first-half goal shows a brittleness there that can be exposed, if the other parts of the game are in place.

And yes, straws and clutching are words that come to mind.

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