Watertight defence the key to Dubs' success as Jim Gavin dig deep
Dublin 0-18 Galway 0-14
When adversity knocked, Dublin answered and sent it packing. When opportunity knocked, Galway were unable to find the key to open the door and welcome it in.
Those were the differences on a bitterly cold afternoon in Croke Park, where football's order remained as it has been for quite some time.
Dublin's ability to work their way systematically through whatever challenge is tossed at them has been a consistent feature over recent seasons and its importance was underlined yet again yesterday when, despite being a man down and playing against the wind, they outscored Galway 0-5 to 0-1 over the closing 15 minutes.
Niall Scully was dismissed in the 50th minute on a second yellow card at a time when Dublin were two points ahead. Six minutes later, the sides were level and the Galway roar was increasing as their supporters sensed that something special could be about to unfold.
It might have against lesser opposition, but not against a squad with so many layers of self-belief.
Small things matter on occasions like this and not even a spectacular save by Ruairi Lavelle from a Dean Rock screamer in the 59th minute could disrupt Dublin.
The Galway goalkeeper deflected the ball out for a '45', which Rock calmly pointed to give Dublin a lead they held all the way to the finish. They took it out to four in stoppage time, which was an accurate reflection of the difference between the sides.
In a way that's encouraging for Galway, for whom qualifying for the final took them into bonus territory in their first season back in Division 1 since 2011.
"We're disappointed with the result, but, taking everything into account, it was a great learning curve for the team," said Galway manager Kevin Walsh.
"It was important we were there coming up the stretch. We gave away a few late points, but we learned a lot overall. I think five of those lads haven't kicked a championship ball yet, so it was important for us to see how they would react at headquarters."
He might have felt a tinge of excitement when handed the manpower advantage after Scully's dismissal, but, if he did, he wasn't admitting it.
"You see lots of games where 14 beat 15, especially when it involves a team like Dublin. They're All-Ireland champions for a reason and they showed it again today. They are really, really good at ball retention - that's a lesson we'd be hoping to pick up from them," said Walsh.
It was certainly a crucial difference in the last 20 minutes, a period in which Galway were unable to unhinge the Dublin defence to anything like the same degree as in the first half, when they took them on with pace and power against the wind.
Damien Comer led the charge, barrelling into defenders at every opportunity. Johnny Heaney and Peter Cooke also did well, while Barry McHugh's accuracy from frees kept the scoreboard ticking over as well.
Having survived a scare after only 10 seconds when Paul Mannion had a goal chance which Lavelle blocked, Galway settled well and were a point ahead after 21 minutes.
It was level at half-time, 0-8 each, and it was a position which at face value looked altogether more promising for Galway. However, they scored two points less with the wind and the numerical advantage in the second half, stats which are directly attributable to Dublin's improved game management.
Sub Colm Basquel raised the energy levels in attack, Ciarán Kilkenny improved considerably and while Con O'Callaghan got few chances on his return to the football scene after his All-Ireland hurling success with Cuala, his arrival in the 54th minute added to Galway's worries, allowing others more space than had earlier been the case.
There was much to admire about the manner in which Dublin went about their business under the added stress of being a man down. Their use of the ball was first class as they patiently worked their way towards the scoring zone.
It was yet another example of how mature Dublin are in those type of circumstances and left Gavin purring with delight as he reflected on a league for which he said they had only two weeks preparation pre-season.
"To get themselves into the final and find themselves in a real dogfight with 25 minutes to go and still produce what they did is remarkable. Myself and the backroom team are just very privileged to work with these players," said Gavin.
Asked about the status of Diarmuid Connolly, whose absence from the scene remains a matter of great curiosity in Dublin, he offered the following explanation.
"His status at the moment is that both Diarmuid and I agreed that what was best was that he would take a rest over these games. He has had a long number of years playing senior inter-county football, as have a lot of this group, so that decision was made in his best interests."
Will Connolly be back for the championship?
"Please God," replied his manager.
Discussing how Dublin had figured out a way to beat their latest challengers for big honours took Gavin into far more comfortable territory, especially when reflecting on the final 20 minutes.
"We controlled the game, we played it on our terms, which is what we try to do in all our games. Defensively we were very solid to limit Galway to six scores in the second half, especially after the wind picked up," he said.
The win took Dublin's league haul to 13 points and while Gavin had lots of reasons to be pleased with how that was achieved, he doesn't see it having any great impact later on.
"Does it have any relevance to the championship? Not really," he said.
Walsh, however, is hopeful that the experience will nourish Galway's summer bid.
"It can only stand you in good stead going into the championship," he said.
Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-7(5f, 1'45)', P Mannion 0-3, C Kilkenny, C Basquel 0-2 each, J Small, P McMahon, N Scully, E Lowndes 0-1 each.
Galway: B McHugh 0-6 (5f), D Comer 0-3, S Walsh (1f), J Heaney 0-2 each, P Conroy 0-1.
Dublin - S Cluxton 7; P McMahon 7, M Fitzsimons 7, D Byrne 7; J McCarthy 7, J Cooper 7, J Small 7; B Fenton 7, MD Macauley 6; N Scully 5, P Mannion 7, B Howard 6; K McManamon 6, C Kilkenny 7, D Rock 7. Subs: E Lowndes 6 for McCarthy (35), C Basquel 7 for Mc Manamon (ht), E Murchan 6 for Small (40), C O'Callaghan 6 for Macauley (54), S Carthy for Mannion (68), Small for McMahon (73).
Galway - R Lavelle 7; D Kyne 6, SA O Ceallaigh 7, E Kerin 7; C Sweeney 7, G Bradshaw 6, S Kelly 7; P Conroy 7, C Duggan 6; J Heaney 7, E Brannigan 6, P Cooke 7; B McHugh 7, D Comer 8, S Walsh 6. Subs: G O'Donnell for Heaney (62), T Flynn for Cooke (67), P Sweeney for Conroy (68), A Varley for Walsh (69), J Duane for B Bradshaw (70).
Ref - A Nolan (Wicklow)