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Friday 21 September 2018

Dub surge down home straight sees off Galway

Dublin 0-18 Galway 0-14

Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton lifts the Football League Division 1 cup
Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton lifts the Football League Division 1 cup

There are 54 minutes on the clock, Galway have landed the last three points to draw level, they have all the momentum - and one more man on the field.

Is the game up for Dublin?

Anyone who has charted the decorated history of Jim Gavin's team would never have made such a foolhardy forecast. After yesterday's ultra-competitive, at times absorbing Division 1 decider, there is even less reason to doubt the Dubs.

Lauded

The three-in-a-row All-Ireland champions have long been lauded for ripping vulnerable opponents to shreds; yet their record of achievement in more fraught circumstances is what really sets them apart from the chasing pack.

Is this down to a surfeit of natural talent compared to rival squads? Only partly so. Their winning mentality, and their composure under pressure, are key to this ongoing saga of success.

Both qualities were pivotal to a fifth Allianz Football League title in the last six seasons. They were a man down from the 50th minute after Niall Scully's double-yellow dismissal. And as the game ticked towards the hour mark, the sides were still level (0-13 apiece) thanks to an early 'Save of the Season' contender from Ruairí Lavelle.

The Galway netminder showed incredible reflexes to divert Dean Rock's piledriver from its putative destination in the top left corner.

Yet, into a biting breeze at a Baltic Croke Par, Rock nailed the resultant '45' and that set in train a late period of Dublin dominance. Fourteen Dubs overwhelmed 15 Tribesmen by five points to one down the home straight ... for landmark historical significance it mightn't quite match the 12 Apostles of 1983, but it was yet another example of this team's enduring appetite for silverware.

Afterwards, you got the clear sense that their all-conquering manager took even more delight than normal from overseeing a fifth top-flight title in his sixth final as manager.

"Absolutely delighted with that win," Gavin beamed. "Delighted for the players first and foremost.

"They're an amazing group of Dublin footballers. To have determination, drive and ambition, particularly after their phenomenal achievements last year.

"And to turn up this year with two weeks' preparation for the National League, get themselves into a final and find themselves in a real dogfight with 25 minutes to go on the clock and a man down into the wind, against a phenomenal Galway team with fantastic forwards.

Privileged 

"To still produce what they did is remarkable. Myself and the backroom team are just very privileged to work with these players. We really are."

Thus ended Galway's uplifting, previously unbeaten return to Division 1. They had topped the table with 13 points, but perhaps Kevin Walsh will take even more encouragement (even in defeat) from the fact that they came through the ultimate litmus test relatively unscathed.

On this latest evidence, they can travel with confidence into what promises to be a Castlebar cauldron against Mayo on May 13.

"Disappointed with the result but, taking everything into account, it was a great learning curve for the team," Walsh noted.

"It was important we were there coming up the stretch. A bit disappointed to give away a few late points but it was good for us overall. I think five of those lads didn't kick a championship ball yet so it was important for us to see how they would react at headquarters."

Overall, though, there could be no doubting the merit of Dublin's win even if the display was more about cool-headed functionality than flashing disco lights.

Gavin is currently missing a number of marquee players (a decorated list led by Cian O'Sullivan and Jack McCaffrey) and they had to play the entire second half without another after James McCarthy hobbled off with an apparent leg injury.

At times, Dublin looked vulnerable in defence - never more tellingly that when Galway's full-forward totem, Damien Comer, won possession and made a beeline for the Hill 16 goal.

Three times inside the opening 20 minutes, Comer was brought to turf by different opponents - Jonny Cooper, Philly McMahon and Scully. On first glance, the first and third offences looked potential black card territory - less so on replay review.

In between, McMahon shipped a yellow and Comer later burst away from the two-time All Star, in typically bulldozing fashion, to clip the first of his three points from play.

And yet, for all their skipper's positive influence, Galway only led once in the first half - and even then for barely a minute.

Paul Mannion, making a dynamic return to the Dublin attack after his recent hamstring injury, levelled the contest at 0-6 apiece on 22 minutes.

Playing a one-two with Brian Fenton, Mannion took the return pass at full pelt and unleashed a rising howitzer that was tipped over by Lavelle.

A brace of Rock frees then made it a two-point game before Paul Conroy and Johnny Heaney (following a superb gather off his boot laces) tied the contest at 0-8 apiece before the half-time bell.

The third-quarter continued on in the same tit-for-tat vein.

Colm Basquel entered off the bench to score with his first touch and, by the time he landed a second in the 45th minute, Dublin led by three and looked poised to race over the horizon.

But Galway, to their credit, didn't buckle.

Shane Walsh, hitherto a fitful presence, came alive with a masterfully judged free from the Hogan touchline and then another sweet point from play, both off his left boot.

In between, Scully had picked up a second yellow in the space of four minutes.

He was initially booked along with Seán Kelly after the pair tangled off the ball; he then earned the ultimate censure after a foul on Paul Conroy.

Later still, with the final delicately poised, we witnessed several examples of the assured decision-making and pass-execution that still separates Dublin from the likes of Galway.

OUTRAGEOUS

Soon after an outrageous Comer point cut Dublin's lead to a single point, Galway's defence seemed to lose its bearings, allowing the ever-influential Fenton to saunter through the middle before offloading to McMahon for a simple point.

And not long after, with Galway applying a ferocious full press on a Dublin kickout, Stephen Cluxton aimed long and with peerless precision to the Hogan touchline where Con O'Callaghan, off the bench for his first football appearance of the year, claimed possession.

In that moment, you sensed Dublin would not be caught. Injury-time points from Eric Lowndes and a Rock free merely confirmed it as they claimed the Division 1 honours for the 13th time.

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