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Friday 9 December 2016

Dublin still on a mazy path to glory

'Visitors' hold on in face of Ros' fightback

Dublin midfielder Brian Fenton. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin midfielder Brian Fenton. Photo: Sportsfile

The day ended with Ciarán Murtagh, one of Roscommon's best players, slipping as he missed a last-second free that would have crowned a brave fightback to parity.

The day had started, over six hours hours earlier in another county, with a pitch inspection that confirmed what many (weather) forecasters had been predicting all week: Dr Hyde Park would not be fit to host the Dubs.

And so the Blues' magical mystery tour decamped to Carrick-on-Shannon where the going at Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada was distinctly on the soft side - but playable.

Against this crazy backdrop, with Roscommon county board taking most of the social media flak, it was hard to know what to expect from either team. Especially from a much-changed Dublin, whose qualification for the Allianz Football League semi-finals was already long assured.

Topsy-Turvy

And maybe that explains the topsy-turvy but ultimately absorbing contest that ensued before an estimated 10,000, surely one of the largest crowds in Carrick since ... well, possibly since Tommy Lyons' embattled Dubs visited here for a 2004 qualifier.

Roscommon were first out of the blocks, via a brace of points from Niall Daly and Murtagh, but then suffered a slow, painful death for the last 25 minutes of the half.

They couldn't live with Dublin's intensity and power in the tackle; they turned over far too much ball for their own health; and the scoreboard lurched inexorably in favour of the 'visitors' who landed nine points on the spin. They were aided by Dean Rock's metronomic shooting: he opened his account from play and then landed Dublin's next four points via placed balls.

In keeping with the roller-coaster mood, Conor McHugh mixed the good with the bad on his full league debut. But having struggled to keep his footing early on, the Na Fianna man grew into the contest and struck one fine point from the left wing before his clever pick-up, run and offload teed up the typically livewire Kevin McManamon for his own score.

Another relative 'newbie', Shane Carthy of St Vincent's, then joined in on the scoring act before Donie Shine's fine riposte trimmed Roscommon's deficit to six - 0-9 to 0-3 - at the midpoint.

It looked, to all intents and purposes, game over.

"We got static and just stepped back - and got a bit frightened of them, I don't mind saying that," admitted Roscommon joint-manager Kevin McStay. "And we said this to them at half-time, 'Why won't we take a risk?'

"I really do think it's where we're at. We're just learning," McStay continued. "Like, Dublin - we see them on telly, they're built up into these big, massive men coming down from the city and nobody can compete with them. And you stand back a bit. And then when they get a run on you, they put up the points fairly lively and then everybody is running away from the ball."

McStay was far more enthused by the second half. It's a moot point how much of this was down to Dublin easing off the gas and/or replacing key men (including McManamon, who hobbled off with a suspected hamstring twinge).

Whatever the explanation, Roscommon landed four of the first five points on the resumption. And yet Dublin appeared to have weathered the storm once Rock followed his eighth point (and seventh free) with a clinically executed goal in the 57th minute.

Just as encouraging as the finish was the build-up: Rock struck the jackpot after a one-two with Eoghan O'Gara, making his first Sky Blue appearance (off the bench) since rupturing his ACL some 13 months ago.

The gap was back out to six ... and still the Rossies refused to slink away quietly. There was a touch of good fortune to the genesis of their comeback - Fintan Cregg appeared to be shooting for a 59th minute point when he dropped the ball short - but the previously off-colour Senan Kilbride still timed his jump perfectly to fist beyond Michael Savage.

Even though John Small soon replied, Ros powered on. Shine crowned his comeback with an inspiring third point from play before he departed, having felt a tightness in his groin; further scores from a Cregg free, then the excellent Murtagh and lively sub Conor Devanney, sandwiching a second Carthy point, cut the margin to just one.

Wrecked

The scene was duly set for Murtagh's 74th minute free; but his shot trailed wide. "Ciarán had a mighty game for us," said McStay, "he brought the game big time to Dublin in the second half. I've no issue there - I'd say he was wrecked."

Roscommon now face Kerry in the semi-finals while Dublin, having completed a perfect seven-from-seven in Division 1, prepare to face that familiar Donegal 'blanket'.

"It is a healthy sign of the squad that players, with so many changes, can simply continue our patterns of play and see things through to the end," said a satisfied Jim Gavin.

Turning to next weekend, the Dublin boss insisted that Donegal "can play it a number of ways ... the game from two weeks ago has no relevance. It's a new game, there will be new players on the pitch from both sides, I'm sure - so we will go after a performance and see where that takes us."

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