Four of five: Special feeling
WHILE it may not have been their primary ambition for 2018, Dublin set off in impressive fashion back in January to reclaim the Division 1 Football League title that eluded them the previous year.
Croke Park was the venue for their first fixture as they blew off the winter cobwebs by beating Kildare by 2-17 to 2-10 thanks to goals from Brian Fenton and Dean Rock but Jim Gavin was not overly impressed with his team's display.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
"We were opened up a little bit and not as controlled as we would like to be. Our hand-passing, kick-passing and the fundamentals of the game weren't what they should have been," he said.
There were still visible signs of early-season rustiness the following week in Omagh as they fell behind to an early Cathal McShane goal but Dublin dominated in the second-half to eventually beat Tyrone by 2-13 to 1-11.
Ciarán Kilkenny was in sparkling form throughout as his first-half goal kept the Dubs in contention while Eoghan O'Gara's late strike sealed the win after fellow Templeogue Synge Street club-mate Niall Scully had been dismissed.
Scully atoned for that indiscretion by kicking four first-half points in Dublin's Round 3 0-20 to 0-15 win against Donegal in Croke Park as the hosts withstood a second-half barrage from Paddy McBrearty to win by five points.
Dublin led by 0-11 to 0-5 at the break but the excellence of McBrearty saw that lead whittled down to the bare minimum before substitutes Ciarán Reddin and Paddy Small kicked late points to confirm Dublin's third straight win.
That three became four a fortnight later in Castlebar as Dublin overcame Mayo far more emphatically than the 2-10 to 0-12 scoreline would imply.
Paul Mannion set the tone of Dublin dominance when netting inside just 70 seconds and, although Dublin managed just 1-1 after the break (Scully the goal-scorer), their hosts never looked capable of reeling in their deficit.
Another fortnight elapsed before Dublin produced their most complete display of the league as they pulled away in the second-half to thrash a youthful Kerry side by 2-17 to 0-11 in Croke Park.
Scully's goal separated the sides at half-time, 1-8 to 0-8, after a testy opening half in front of a 24,026 crowd on a cool afternoon with Kilkenny adding a second goal to put a sizeable distance between the teams.
"I didn't see it going that way coming into the game. We created quite a few goal-scoring opportunities which have to be tightened up on for the next game," said Gavin.
A tetchy and ill-disciplined affair ensued in Salthill as Dublin lost their perfect record when drawing 0-13 apiece against Galway.
Trailing by 0-10 to 0-5 at the break, a five-point haul from Kilkenny looked to have clinched victory for Dublin but the late dismissal of O'Gara handed the impetus back to the hosts who claimed the draw through a late Johnny Heaney point.
With qualification to the final already confirmed, Dublin's final group game proved a strange affair as Fintan Kelly kicked the decisive score in Monaghan's surprise 2-12 to 0-17 success at Croke Park.
That defeat ensured that Dublin's opponents in the final, Galway, were confident of capitalising on Dublin's perceived vulnerability but, despite Scully receiving his marching orders with 20 minutes remaining, the Dubs finished strongly to prevail by 0-18 to 0-14.
"They demand so much from each other and they do genuinely see representing Dublin as a privilege," said Gavin, who by now was turning his attention to Dublin's impending Leinster campaign.
Wicklow were first up for the holders in Portlaoise and it was all too easy for Gavin's men who were assured of the quarter-final win after just 20 minutes when they led 2-8 to 0-2, easing home by 4-25 to 1-11 by full-time.
Fenton and Rock scored those early goals and two more Dublin majors before half-time, from Kilkenny and Con O'Callaghan, left 18 points between them at the interval.
Their reward was a Croke Park clash against Longford in the provincial last-four and, like many Leinster games of recent times, it proved one-sided as Dublin cruised to a 2-25 to 0-12 win.
A James McGivney sending-off for a foul on Stephen Cluxton was never likely to help Longford's cause as goals by Rock and Mannion put paid to their challenge.
"There were a lot of people in Lourdes and Lough Derg praying for us. Obviously those prayers didn't work," said Longford manager Denis Connerton.
Laois were Dublin's opponents in the Leinster decider and despite a sluggish first-half, they still managed to rack up their biggest win in a Leinster final this decade, prevailing by 1-25 to 0-10.
In truth, the margin could have been far greater but for the heroics of Graham Brody in the Laois goal, but an early Kilkenny goal was all that Dublin could manage in a game that saw Evan Comerford perform well in Cluxton's absence.
The usual concerns regarding their lack of competitive fare resurfaced as Dublin prepared for their opening Super 8s clash against Donegal but a brace of Niall Scully goals saw a cautious Dublin prevail by 2-15 to 0-16 in Croke Park.
"The performance won't be good enough going forward, no matter who we play," warned Gavin.
There was a marked increase in terms of intensity the following week as Dublin secured their semi-final place when beating Tyrone by 1-14 to 0-14 in Omagh.
A James McCarthy goal was just reward for Dublin's control for the opening hour as
Tyrone finished on the front foot to place a more respectable complexion on the final scoreline.
Gavin gave some fringe players the opportunity to impress in Dublin's final group game in Croke Park as they secured top spot in the group when beating Roscommon by 4-24 to 2-16.
Eoghan O'Gara fired in two goals to augment efforts from Paul Flynn and Michael Darragh Macauley while the return from injury of Bernard Brogan was the ideal way to end the afternoon.
Their semi-final pitted them against a Galway team that had impressed in their run to the last-four and an early Damien Comer goal raised optimism within their ranks.
However, a fine penalty save from Stephen Cluxton to deny Eamonn Brannigan stalled their momentum and an O'Callaghan goal and superb individual displays by Jack McCaffrey and Fenton allowed Dublin to cruise to a 1-24 to 2-12 victory.
"Throughout the year, it's really the new lads that come in every year and keep driving things on a little," said McCaffrey.
The ensuing final against a Tyrone team that had edged Monaghan in the other semi-final threatened to be competitive initially as the underdogs took early control, leading by 0-5 to 0-1 at one stage.
However, Dublin blitzed their opponents with goals from Paul Mannion, a penalty, and Scully and although Tyrone threatened to rally late on, it proved all too comfortable for the Dubs, who were full value for their 2-17 to 1-14 win.
"We'll never get tired of going out playing in Croke Park. We'll never get tired putting on a Dublin jersey and we'll definitely never get tired of winning All-Irelands," said Philly McMahon as he reflected on Dublin's fourth successive Sam Maguire title.
McMahon's father Phil had passed away the previous month after a long battle with stomach cancer. He had been diagnosed with the illness during Dublin's championship run in the summer of 2017.
"The big word for us this year was gratitude," said McMahon afterwards. "There's people in this stadium that probably won't ever see an All-Ireland again. It's just great to give a bit of happiness to people.
"These fans travelled all over the country this year so it's nice to give back. We always say it's not going to be around forever, so we'll enjoy it while we have it.
"These lads gave me a gift last year, my dad could see me win the All-Ireland. He was here in spirit today. There's plenty of people who are probably not here who would love to be here to watch us.
"So we're grateful for what we have, Tyrone brought the best out of us today, so massive respect for that."
For manager Gavin it was his fourth title on the bounce but he wasn't giving that any thought.
"I didn't envisage anything when I took over Dublin. I just envisaged trying to do my very best for them.
"We all just volunteer our time, it's a choice that we make. There are no guarantees.
"When it's all over, we'll look back. But we're just living in the moment now."