Dublin survive early Galway storm to reach sixth final in eight seasons
Dublin 1-24 Galway 2-12
Dublin's journey towards a fourth All-Ireland title on the spin remains on course. Yesterday evening in Croke Park they extended their unbeaten run in the championship under Jim Gavin to 27 games as they nailed down a final spot for the sixth time in eight seasons.
It's a remarkable record by any standards but doesn't tell the full story. Under Gavin's tutelage they have only ever lost one championship game - against Donegal in the 2014 semi-final - while winning 35 and drawing two.
They survived a torrid spell in the first quarter when they fell behind after conceding a brilliant goal by Damien Comer. The Dubs even needed an excellent penalty save from Stephen Cluxton to prevent them from falling further in arrears.
But a goal from Con O'Callaghan steadied the ship and they led by two at the break before completely dominating the second half.
Between them, corner forwards O'Callaghan and Paul Mannion scored 1-7 from play, and although Dean Rock missed a couple of second-half frees he still chipped in with five points. There were also five-star performances from Ciaran Kilkenny and, in particular, Brian Fenton and Jack McCaffrey, which eased them through.
Their full back line remains a source of concern, though, and they lost sweeper Cian O'Sullivan through injury in the first half.
It was a disappointing end of an otherwise solid season from Galway. This was a much better effort than their tame performance against Monaghan but like all other teams who face the Dubs, they simply couldn't stay with them when they moved up the gears.
Dublin made two significant pre-match changes, bringing in specialist man-markers Eoin Murchan and John Small who replaced Mick Fitzsimons and Michael Darragh Macauley respectively. James McCarthy went to midfield to partner Brian Fenton. In the event Fitzsimons was on the field by the 28th minute after O'Sullivan was forced to withdraw with a suspected hamstring injury.
Cluxton became the most capped Dublin player of all time in league and championship, making his 198th appearance (96 championship and 102 league), surpassing the previous record held by John O'Leary, whose seven-year old son Tom presented the match ball to referee Barry Cassidy.
The game began in predictable fashion, with Dublin on the offensive and punishing every Galway turnover and by the seventh minute they were 0-3 to no score ahead, with points from Mannion and two converted frees from Dean Rock.
But the contest sparkled into life in the eighth minute when Ciaran Duggan hung an unviting cross in the air and Damien Comer rose over Philly McMahon and fisted it past Cluxton, who was caught in no-man's land.
Cluxton misjudged the subsequent kick-out and Galway almost got in for another goal but Dublin managed to clear their lines. But the champions looked momentarily rattled and Shane Walsh kicked a brilliant ninth-minute point to give Galway the lead for the first time.
Brian Howard equalised but Galway ought to have punished them in the 11th minute when the title holders conceded a penalty. Again it was Comer who caused the damage before Jonny Cooper pushed him in the back.
But Cluxton dived to his left and brilliantly stopped Eamonn Brannigan's spot kick, and just to compound Galway's mistery Walsh missed the resultant 45.
Dublin made the most of their let-off to hit the next three points but Galway's cause wasn't helped by their wastefulness - by half-time they had recorded six wides compared to two for Dublin.
But the growing influence of Ian Burke, who was giving Murchan the toughest game of his career, revived Galway. He kicked one point and won two frees which Walsh converted to level the game again.
But Dublin's ability to win their kick-out - they secured all but two of their 11 restarts, though Galway rarely pressed up on them - handed them back the initiative. Jack McCaffrey's penetrating run on the right flank and sublime pass to Niall Scully prised open the Galway defence and the latter's cross was palmed to the net by O'Callaghan.
Ruairi Lavelle was under much more pressure with his re-starts as Dublin pressed up on them but they still only managed to 'steal' two of his 14 kickouts.
Galway refused to panic, and though Dublin kicked two more points before the break with the influential Ciaran Kilkenny getting his second, Galway replied with three - including the two final points of the half through Walsh and Johnny Heaney. They began to have success in turning Dublin over in possession and trailed by two at the break (1-9 to 1-7).
It took a timely interception from Sean Kelly to deny McCaffrey a goal after the Galway full-back line had failed to clear a shot from Scully which rebounded off the upright. At the other end McCaffrey made a crucial interception as Galway threatened.
Gradually Dublin asserted their authority, however, and started to pull away. Brian Fenton made one wonderful mark from a Stephen Cluxton kickout and McCaffrey inflicted damage, winning two Galway re-starts and driving forward at every opportunity.
With 50 minutes on the clock Dublin were four points clear after Galway substitute Michael Daly scored his team's first point from play in the second half. Ten minutes later the margin had doubled and the arrival of Cormac Costello - who scored 0-3, and Kevin McManamon, who hit two injury-time points - caused additional problems for the over-worked Galway defence, whose only response was two pointed frees from Walsh.
Long before the end, the game was over as a meaningful contest. Walsh did, however, cap an excellent personal contribution with a brilliant individual goal right at the death. Up until that goal Dublin had outscored them 14 points to five in the second half, which sums up the true nature of a dominant effort from the champions.
Gavin's team are now just one win away from equalling Wexford's record of 15 consecutive championship wins when they won four All-Ireland titles in-a-row between 1915 and 1918.
The official attendance was 54,716.
Scorers - Dublin: C O'Callaghan 1-3, D Rock 0-5 (4f), P Mannion 0-4, C Kilkenny, C Costello (1f) 0-3 each, B Fenton, K McManamon 0-2 each, B Howard, P Flynn 0-1 each. Galway: S Walsh 1-5 (3f), D Comer 1-1, I Burke 0-2, T Flynn, M Daly, G O'Donnell, J Heaney 0-1 each.
Dublin: S Cluxton; E Murchan, P McMahon, J Cooper; J Small, C O'Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton, J McCarthy; N Scully, C Kilkenny, B Howard; D Rock, C O'Callaghan, P Mannion. Subs: M Fitzsimons for O'Sullivan (28 inj), C Costello for Scully (44), K McManamon for Rock (56), MD Macauley for Murchan (57), D Daly for Small (66), P Flynn for McCaffrey (68).
Galway: R Lavelle; D Kyne, SA Ó Ceallaigh, E Kerin; C Sweeney, G Bradshaw, J Heaney; C Duggan, T Flynn; E Brannigan, S Walsh, S Kelly; S Armstrong, D Comer, I Burke. Subs: M Daly for Armstrong (47), P Cooke for Brannigan (50), G O'Donnell for Sweeney (56), A Varley for Heaney (59), C Molloy for Kerin (66), J Duane for Bradshaw (68)
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).
Sunday Indo Sport