Deja vu as Dubs crumble in Clare
Bugler red card galvanises Banner to obtain needed win
IF the story of the afternoon was Clare's awakening for 2015 on just the right day for Davy Fitzgerald, the subplot was definitely Dublin's fatal dose of déjà vu.
Ennis. A man up. Five points ahead. What could possibly go wrong?
The answer, as they learned during the summer of 2012 and in spooky similar circumstances again last Saturday night, was everything.
So Ger Cunningham was left to mull the contrasting, but equally sharp, disappointments of a straight-up destruction by Cork versus the more implosion based loss in Cusack Park.
"Clare at home are always difficult. But they had to win today," he mused.
"They had no choice but to win. It was always a tough task, always formidable, but again we put ourselves into a winning position, and didn't close it out."
First, the sending off - so pivotal it seemed to disrupting Dublin's flow.
Brendan Bugler received a red card from Cathal McAllister on 30 minutes based on advice from an umpire pertaining to an off-the-ball incident.
Dublin were five points up and Clare had been bad. The crowd were restless and Dublin, primarily through the ball-winning feats of Liam Rushe, were motoring along nicely.
Then a John Conlon point effort dipped lower and lefter than anyone in the ground - though particularly Alan Nolan - had anticipated and into the net and Dublin went in just two up.
"They were getting some good ball into Shane O'Donnell, who was very good, very effective today," said Cunningham of the 2013 All-Ireland hurling final replay hero who had, until half-time, ploughed something of a lone furrow until then.
"Sometimes it's difficult to know with the extra man, do you push up the field, or protect what you have. And sometimes players aren't sure."
Initially, Peter Kelly played spare man. Later, Conal Keaney hovered in that general area. Ditto Shane Durkin but it didn't stand to reason that Dublin couldn't find men and space a little easier against 14 men than they had with 15.
And doubtless, the dismissal riled the crowd, paltry thoughthe number were. You could, based on some pretty blatant evidence, also surmise that McAllister gave the smaller Clare forwards far softer frees for minimal contact thereafter.
Which wasn't something Cunningham griped about after, though he did question the awarding of two points to Clare that looked clearly to have sailed wide while a third almost appeared to be overruled because of a protest launched by the Dublin management team.
"There were two very contentious ones. And that's the danger when you don't have Hawk-eye in some venues. The last was undoubtedly wide. They're vital, when games come down to inches."
Still, Dublin weren't beaten by officialdom.
"I think they won a lot of breaking ball around midfield," explained Cunningham of a period during which Clare shot seven points on the spin.
"And their half-backs won five or six puck outs in a row, and a team gets momentum, the crowd behind, at home, and sometimes it's hard to stop the flow of the tide."
The bright spots for Dublin were, of course, negated by the result and the manner of it.
For a start, Rushe had his best game at full-forward this year, even if his early shot for goal was partly saved and tipped over the line by Cian Boland.
Rushe won eight clean balls in the first half off Cian Dillon and David McInerney and scored four points, though he suffered more than anyone from the aimless clearances that passed for service in the second half.
But after an ideal start, Dublin find themselves in a wholly unnecessary tight spot in this League.