Monday 17 December 2018

Comment: In full flight, Dublin are the best possible advertisement for hurling's ugly sister

Man of the match Jack McCaffrey celebrates after Dublin’s All-Ireland semi-final victory at Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Man of the match Jack McCaffrey celebrates after Dublin’s All-Ireland semi-final victory at Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

It was men against boys. No point pretending otherwise. But for once let's not focus on the competitive deficit in the championship or the failure of the latest pretenders to pose a serious challenge to Dublin. Let's pay tribute instead to the power and grace of Jim Gavin's team and the way they epitomise all that's good about Gaelic football. There is an awful lot to admire.

There's the welcome return to form of the prodigious Con O'Callaghan, whose goal was a masterpiece of construction and execution.

There's the uncannily unhurried playmaking ability of Ciaran Kilkenny, this year with added points. And the thrilling high speed forays of Jack McCaffrey, Brian Fenton's unique combination of towering fetches and precise finishes and the electrifying Paul Mannion, who yesterday had his best game since last year's All-Ireland final with a string of scores from play that showcased an increasing technical assurance.

Then there's that supporting cast; Cormac Costello, Kevin McManamon and Paul Flynn, who make such an impact when introduced they're like the encore which seems more memorable than the main gig.

The formal perfection of Dublin's attacking play was a thing of wonder in the first half. For once restricted to a minority share of possession they still scored 1-9 against a team which had held Kerry to just one point more in their last Croke Park appearance. Patient passing, selfless running and ruthless shooting made Gaelic football look both a simple and an extremely beautiful game.

The second half saw more of the same. In Dublin's last meaningful Croke Park assignment, self-indulgent bouts of keep ball had kept the score down against Donegal. Yesterday they kept going right to the end, the final whistle blowing seconds after two shots had cracked off the woodwork in quick succession.

A passage of play in the 56th minute encapsulated that second period. Costello's shot was superbly blocked down by Declan Kyne. The Galway fans cheered. The ball fell to McManamon. Another great block, another cheer. Then McManamon retrieved the ball and set Costello up for a point. Resistance was futile.

The competitive element had departed by the fourth quarter and the final 10 minutes had the air of an exhibition match. Having spent all year constructing a supposedly watertight defensive system Galway had seen it completely dismantled. The Frenchman who proposed the Maginot Line and saw the Germans go round it would have sympathised.

There were hopeful moments for Galway. When Damien Comer scored a goal and won a penalty early on their fans may have dreamed all kinds of impossible things. Comer, Shane Walsh, Ian Burke and Tom Flynn lost little caste in this defeat but too many of their team-mates didn't seem to belong on this stage. By the end they posed no more threat than the flock of Leinster also-rans ritually slaughtered at the start of the summer.

The question is not whether Dublin can be stopped this year but whether they'll be prevented from completing the six in a row in 2020. It could happen. All we need is some brilliant Kerry geneticist to successfully clone David Clifford several times and the Dubs might be in real trouble.

Barring that, there's probably no halting them. They are a great team and, lest we forget, an exceptionally entertaining one. Holding their greatness against them is a mug's game. In full flight, this side is the best possible advertisement for hurling's ugly sister.

Their name is Dublin, kings of football. Look on their works ye rivals and despair.

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