Dubs show strength in depth to ease past Down challenge
PERHAPS on a windy night in Croke Park and without several of the pillars of their side, Dublin should have been vulnerable.
The man recently described by Paul 'Pillar' Caffrey as "irreplaceable" – Rory O'Carroll – was absent along with talisman Bernard Brogan.
Double All Star Paul Flynn sat out the game while Ciaran Kilkenny was also out injured, not to mention 2011 Player of the Year Alan Brogan.
It all meant that Dublin were forced to dig deeper into their panel than many managers would like with a league semi-final in the offing.
But, in front of a crowd of just 10,000 – the smallest attendance at a Spring Series fixture – the depth of Jim Gavin's options became apparent. Paul Mannion was one of the stars of the Dublin championship last year and took his chance with both hands.
Nicky Devereux has been in and out of the Dublin squad but was excellent in DIT's march to the Sigerson title.
And in only his first league start, he looked right at home. Johnny Cooper has been part of Gavin's U-21 side and he too fits right into Dublin's plan.
Add in that none of the Ballymun players, who have been so impressive over the last month, have featured of late and there's an ocean of options available.
Still, Down started brighter and while they have been criticised for being too open in the past, their packed defence and persistent switching caused confusion for Dublin as they raced into an early lead, with Mark Poland and Brendan McArdle finding their range.
It took the Dubs 28 minutes to score their first point from play, by which stage Diarmuid Connolly and Mannion had missed very scoreable frees as they struggled in the conditions. Indeed, by the end of the first half Dublin had racked up eight wides as they struggled with their shot selection.
Down might have done some real damage at this stage when Conor Laverty broke through on goal but he was well stood up by Stephen Cluxton and eventually called for over-carrying.
And with things going against them, Gavin looked to his bench.
A crucial piece of surgery saw Michael Darragh Macauley replace Denis Bastick in the Dublin midfield and that helped spark a revival.
Some wild shooting prevailed but by the time the short whistle came, they had closed to within two points (0-7 to 0-5) and looked well placed.
"I thought we showed good patience in the first half and it was a very strong breeze," Gavin said afterwards.
"We created lots of opportunities. I think we took less than 50pc of those opportunities and missed a lot of frees.
"We had a chat at half-time and in the second half we came out a bit stronger and kept creating opportunities, so that's a positive.
"Most teams are (rotating forwards). We've spoken about it so they know what to expect. Down played very well in the first half and got some fantastic scores from long range.
"But we knew that they have got very good forwards and if you give them space and quality ball, that they would hurt us."
Down's challenge faded badly in the second half as Mannion et al started to find their range and even though there were 20 minutes left on the clock when Kevin McManamon smashed to the net after Macauley's run, the game was up for Down.
Only a pair of excellent stops from Brendan McVeigh kept the gap from getting any wider.
Dublin captain Cluxton insisted nothing needed to be said after last week's defeat to Tyrone to inspire his men on Saturday.
"I think Down, defensively, played quite well. They made us cough up a lot of errors in the first half and they punished us then on the counter attack," he said.
"It was probably about minimising our own errors more than anything else, and moving the ball a bit quicker.
"I think they're all playing at a level where they all have to set their own targets. They don't need anyone beating drums or banging tables at this stage of their career. They just have to go out and rectify it themselves.
"They know themselves, they saw the video of the last game over the week and I'm sure they were hurt over what they saw."
Down plunged deeper in relegation trouble with Kildare visiting Newry in a fortnight's time but next up for Dublin is a trip north to face All-Ireland champions Donegal in Ballybofey.
It's a dress rehearsal for two teams expected to be in the shake-up come late August and Cluxton insists Dublin's eyes are on the bigger prize.
"If the team wins league medals, well then that's a bonus. But ultimately it's about preparing yourself for the championship and making sure we're going to give it a good lash."
Man of the match: P Mannion (Dublin)
SCORERS – Dublin: P Mannion 0-5 (0-3f), D Connolly 0-4 (0-2f), K McManamon 1-0, P Andrews 0-2 (1f), C O'Sullivan, B Cullen, N Devereux, S Cluxton ('45') 0-1 each. Down: D O'Hare 0-3 (2f), M Poland 0-2 (1f), B McArdle, K McKernan, P McComiskey, D Savage (1f) 0-1 each.
DUBLIN – S Cluxton 8; J Cooper 8, D Daly 7, K O'Brien 7; N Devereux 8, G Brennan 7, J McCaffrey 8; C O'Sullivan 7, D Bastick 6; D Connolly 7, B Cullen 6, C Dias 5; P Mannion 8, P Andrews 7, K McManamon 7. Subs: MD Macauley 7 for Bastick (23), S Carthy 6 for Dias (47), C Guckian 6 for Daly (52), P Ryan 6 for Connolly (60), K Nolan for McCaffrey (66).
DOWN – B McVeigh 8; D O'Hagan 7, B McArdle 6, R Boyle 6; P McCommiskey 7, D Turley 6, P Turley 7; P Devlin 6, K Quinn 6; K McKiernan 8, M Poland 6, B Coulter 6; C Laverty 6, D O'Hare 6, A McConville 6 Subs: C Harrison 6 for McConville (31), K King 6 for Devlin (53), D McKibbin 6 for D Turley (55), D Savage 6 for Poland (56), R Kelly 6 for O'Hare (59).
REF – F Kelly (Longford).