Fanning's sad to go but sees bright future for his minors
Despite Déise defeat, Dublin manager proud of improved performance
THE disappointment that accompanied Pat Fanning's post-match comments in Thurles reflected the anguish that the Dublin manager felt in the immediate aftermath of his side's exit from the All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship.
Fanning had just witnessed his side produce a far more competent and compelling display after the horrors of their Leinster final no-show but Dublin still came out on the wrong side of the 2-18 to 0-19 scoreline as Waterford progressed to the semi-finals.
"In many ways, it was one that got away for us. Certainly, we were pleased with some aspects of what we witnessed out there but of course, the result was terribly disappointing from our perspective," said Fanning.
"We needed a reaction after what happened against Kilkenny and I'm happy to say that the way we played out there would probably have been enough to win Leinster, and I don't mean that as any disrespect to Kilkenny who beat us handsomely three weeks ago.
"We didn't perform that day and thankfully we did today but sadly, a couple of silly mistakes cost us and one or two below par performances which weren't up to the standard that we would have liked were what cost us in the end.
"We are very happy with the lads. They are gutted obviously and there are a lot of tears in that dressing room but they gave it a good lash out there and they can certainly leave Thurles with their heads held high.
"They are all disgusted with the loss. There are a few "What-ifs" floating about the dressing room and maybe we could have sneaked the win but best to luck to Waterford who took their chances on the day," added Fanning.
Of course, Dublin will look back with regret on events in the 43rd minute when the game turned irrevocably in Waterford's favour. First, Shane Ryan added to his first-half goal to help restore Waterford's authority as Dublin resumed after the break in determined fashion.
Despite that concession, the Dubs looked to have secured a goal of their own from the resultant puck-out as dual player Con O'Callaghan burst through before kicking to the net. however, Wexford referee Justin Heffernan adjudged the Cuala player to have fouled, a contentious decision that rankled with both players and management.
"Con in an outstanding hurler as well as a footballer and it is very rare that you would see him questioning a referee's decision," added the Na Fianna clubman.
"He had lost his hurley at that stage and the ball fell but the referee said that he threw the ball before kicking it into the net. It was a very tough call and it would have been huge for us to get a goal so soon after conceding and that positive reaction may have given us added momentum but it just wasn't to be for us on the day.
"That was definitely the turning point with 60 seconds or less between the two incidents and we struggled to create goal chances after that."
From a positive perspective, Fanning could justifiably be content with the impact that his substitutes made on the encounter, especially as his side enjoyed a marked advantage in terms of possession upon the resumption. Dublin looked far more coherent in that second half with the Waterford native keen to highlight the role that some of his changes made in improving Dublin's fortunes.
Tom Fox and Sean Gray shared four points in the second half after their introduction as the Dubs strove to keep their All-Ireland ambitions alive. "That's the story of our lives at this stage. The changes that we make during games seem to work well. I know it sounds like a cliché but every team is only as strong as the depth of his panel and we have a great panel of players.
"Fellas came on like Tom Fox, who had an outstanding game. Tom was very upset to be left out of the starting line-up and he came up to me and let me know that and I admire him for that.
"That attitude is great as far as I'm concerned and he came in and played superbly. Sean Gray was another to come on and impress but that's the sort of thing that you plan for and you hope to get that impact from the bench every day," added Fanning.
Their impact couldn't turn the tide in Dublin's favour. That Dublin trailed by six points by the end of the first quarter ultimately hindered their prospects with Fanning frustrated once again at the sluggish nature shown by his side early on.
"We didn't start the way we would have liked and that has been a recurring theme of late. We certainly planned to make a brighter start.
"We never managed to get ahead apart from in the second minute and we were chasing the game. We were seven points down at one stage but managed to get in down to three by half-time so that gave us hope for the second-half.
"I know I'm stressing the point, but really the game hinged on a couple of silly mistakes on our part and at this level, you are going to get punished for those.
"It was through no fault on anybody, more just the ball bouncing the wrong way for us and maybe the wrong option being taken at times," he added.
However, while regret was Fanning's primary emotion in Semple Stadium, there was an underlying pride evident in the manner in which he spoke of his players. His captain Shane Barrett overcame his recent injury concerns to produce a superb display in the Dublin defence and he drove his side forward at every opportunity.
His leadership and all-round play created confidence in his defensive colleagues with Mark McCallion and Dara Butler improving with every minute on the field.
How Dublin would have fared had they reflected that confidence from the opening whistle is difficult to quantify but their form after the break was a reminder of their excellence in the earlier stages of the campaign.
"People may criticise us and say that we peaked in April and May and maybe that is true but I can assure you that was not in the plan. We won three championship matches in a row and that's the sign of a good side. Sadly, we didn't show that consistency of play in the Leinster final but there were certainly flashes of it out there today," he said.
The loss to Waterford ensured Fanning's two-year term came to an end last Sunday, a time that he enjoyed immensely, despite the mixed results. He leaves his role with a heavy heart but more importantly a respect and admiration for the panel that he leaves behind. "There's a bright future for those lads out there and we are immensely proud of them. It's just a shame that it had to end like that. They are fantastic lads and I've really enjoyed working with them. It was a pleasure to be associated with them," he concluded.