Gavin's young Dubs rally to repel Rossies
LIAM O'Neill's description of Gaelic football as 'boring' got him into some hot water recently.
But that was a word the new GAA president certainly couldn't use when presenting the Cadbury's All-Ireland U-21 trophy in Tullamore yesterday.
The Rossies brought a huge raiding party across the Shannon which outnumbered the Dubs among the 10,000-plus crowd by a four-to-one margin and all were mesmerised by a game that featured soaring fielding, brilliant long-range point-taking and footpassing and some magnificent personal duels.
Yet again the U-21 grade, thankfully still devoid of the cynicism that now mars the senior game, showcased the very best of football and provided another show-stopping climax.
When the dust finally settled, the Dubs took only their third U-21 title (2003 and 2010) by a flattering seven-point margin, and captain John Kelly thoughtfully used his acceptance speech to remember Ciaran Carr, a team-mate who tragically lost his life to Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS) last January.
That certainly put things in perspective and even as Roscommon's young stars gulped back their own tears, they were assured of what a huge part they had played in this epic.
It was only in the final quarter that the winners pulled away, but that closing act also underlined just why these young 'Superdubs' were unbackable beforehand at 1/5 odds.
Dublin manager Jim Gavin moved quickly after half-time to bravely empty his bench, and his timely interventions, Dublin's superior subs and their midfield dominance ultimately swung the game as they came from two down to score an unanswered 1-6 in the final quarter.
Their second goal, from substitute Paul Mannion, came deep in injury-time but by then they already had enough daylight to win the county's second U-21 title in three years.
Centre-forward star Gary Sweeney, who beat several of his DCU college team-mates yesterday, was one of just three Dublin survivors from 2010, and he singled out a trait in his manager that certainly seems to have been passed on to his players.
"Being an army man, Jim is very regimented," Sweeney revealed.
"He knows exactly what he wants and he gets exactly what he wants from his players."
Discipline and composure are certainly Gavin's trademarks, and those qualities, particularly in their multi-phase build-ups in the late stages, were exactly what pulled this one out of the fire.
All the pre-match hype was about Dublin dual star Ciaran Kilkenny but the ball wasn't long thrown in when Roscommon's Cian Connolly, Donie Smith, Paddy Brogan and Cathal Shine stole the limelight to lead their team in a marvellously stylish and gutsy display.
Within 20 minutes Roscommon were swarming all over their vaunted opponents and were three points up (0-4 to 0-1).
But then they started struggling in midfield, losing seven kick-outs in a row and, when Paul Hudson had scored three points from play, were forced to switch Cathal Duignan on to him, giving room for Philip Ryan to exploit.
Hudson still scrambled in a goal, off a long Kelly delivery, after 32 minutes to put Dublin two up (1-5 to 0-6) at half-time.
But the Rossies rocked them back on their heels again on the resumption, scoring four unanswered points, including phenomenal individual scores from Smith, Connolly and Colin Compton, by then shifted effectively to centre-forward.
Yet again Dublin, despite losing Ciaran Reddin, got on top in midfield, largely thanks to their subs and the incredible, unstoppable fielding of Emmet O Conghaile, one of three of last year's dual minor stars who started.
"I told them to keep their shape and their discipline, but within that framework, to express themselves more," revealed Gavin of his half-time instructions.
"If the shots were on to go for it, and to keep the tempo up. Ultimately, if it became a dogfight, we'd have enough in the tank in the end."
Roscommon's inability to get even a fingertip on their own kick-outs in that final quarter was partially down to running out of steam, but that was understandable given their earlier all-action input.
"We tried to change it (midfield) around, tried to get players in there to change things but the momentum was with them and we just couldn't hold them," said beaten manager Nigel Dineen.
He also referred to the impact made by Dublin's subs, and Gavin's decision to whip off three of his starting forwards within 11 minutes of half-time was certainly a huge factor, with Harry Dawson and Gerry Seever particularly effective in those final stages.
But when the game was in the balance it was O Conghaile and Sweeney who controlled things, the former making four spectacular clean catches in a row, while the latter repeatedly opened up angles with his brilliantly measured deliveries.
And it was only in those late stages that Kilkenny, held to a point by half-time by Ciaran Cafferkey, really got to blossom.
For Roscommon, there was consolation that this team which won two provincial U-21 titles in succession, and were both stylish and brave yesterday, will provide nourishment for the future.
"They're magnificent, will do anything to train and work for one another and I've no doubt a lot of them will play senior for Roscommon in the future," Dineen said.
But Dublin football is clearly in even ruder health at the moment, even if they do eventually lose Kilkenny to the Aussies.
Scorers -- Dublin: P Hudson 1-4, C Kilkenny 0-4 (1f), P Mannion 1-0, J Kelly, P Ryan, G Seaver, H Dawson 0-1 each. Roscommon: D Smith 0-4 (2f), C Compton 0-3 (1f), D Keane, C Connolly 0-2 each.
Dublin -- JB Carthy 8; S George 7, K O'Brien (capt) 9, M Concar 6; L Fletcher 7, J Kelly 7, J McCaffrey 7; E O Conghaile 9, C Reddin 7; G Sweeney 9, D Byrne 6, M Schutte 6; P Hudson 8, P Ryan 7, C Kilkenny 8. Subs: P Maguire 6 for Schutte (h-t), G Seever 7 for Byrne (34), H Dawson 8 for Ryan (41), P O'Higgins 7 for Reddin (42), P Mannion for Hudson (59).
Roscommon -- T Lowe 6; C Cafferkey 7, C Duignan 7, D Murray 6; C Daly 7, P Brogan (capt) 8, R Stack 7; C Shine 8, N Daly 6; S Oates 7, N Kilroy 6, D Keane 8; C Connolly 8, C Compton 8, D Smith 8. Subs: J McManus 6 for Keane (48), F Cregg 6 for Stack (55), C Murtagh for Connolly (58), F Kelly for Kilroy (59).
Ref -- P O'Sullivan (Kerry)