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Thursday 23 November 2017

Dubs demise sadly all too predictable

Galway 2-28 Dublin 1-17

Referee Barry Kelly shows Dublin’s Cian O’Callaghan a red card during the Leinster SHC quarter-final at O’Connor Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Referee Barry Kelly shows Dublin’s Cian O’Callaghan a red card during the Leinster SHC quarter-final at O’Connor Park. Photo: Sportsfile

There was something all too sadly predictable, even inevitable, about Dublin's first and last foray into the 2017 Leinster senior hurling championship.

Some early-summer matches carry a frisson of pre-match anticipation, all because of their potential shock value.

But there was no such giddy talk in the capital these past few weeks, and yesterday in Tullamore we saw why.

Galway came to O'Connor Park as All-Ireland favourites and, without ever scaling the heights of their league final destruction of Tipperary, they did enough to keep the maroon bandwagon in fine voice for another few weeks at least.

And Dublin? No squad can lose so many proven campaigners over a two-year period and expect the remaining hotchpotch of stalwarts, year-two novices and year-one rookies to survive in this elite company.

It's early days but Galway are genuine Liam MacCarthy contenders. Dublin haven't been that since the dizzy days of 2013 and, after their recent league demotion, this was another confidence-sapping experience.

True, the eventual 14-point chasm may qualify as slightly unfair, Dublin's already onerous task becoming 'Mission Impossible' in the wake of Cian O'Callaghan's 41st minute dismissal.

Rebound

The corner-back had been booked (correctly) for a late hit on Jason Flynn - all in vain as the Galway No 10 had already fired home on the rebound for his side's first goal, after a fine Conor Dooley stop to deny Joseph Cooney, on 28 minutes.

His second yellow, though, was far more contentious. O'Callaghan was implicated for halting Cooney as the latter emerged from a ruck ... but replays suggested it may have been more an accidental tangle than a deliberate trip.

Ger Cunningham, for one, felt aggrieved. "I thought it was extremely harsh. I couldn't believe it," the Dubs boss declared.

A tense Ger Cunningham on the sideline in Tullamore. Photo: Sportsfile
A tense Ger Cunningham on the sideline in Tullamore. Photo: Sportsfile

He deemed it "probably the turning point of the game", although in the next breath he admitted: "We were struggling a bit just before that and had conceded a few scores ... I'd have to see it back.

"All I can say is that it looked an extremely dubious yellow card. I'm not even sure what he got the first one for. It was going to be hard enough to beat Galway with 15, but to go down a man for most the second half was most disappointing."

From there on, a Leinster quarter-final that never once qualified as riveting effectively stopped being a contest.

Dublin had only trailed by 1-10 to 1-7 at the break courtesy of Ben Quinn's injury-time goal - superbly angled inside the right upright after Seán Moran's initial delivery was gathered by Donal Burke and arrowed into Quinn's path.

"It woke us up again, but it shouldn't take a goal from the other team to wake us up. That is something we certainly have to improve on," admitted Galway wing-back Aidan Harte.

"There was a bit of fluency in our game and heads-up hurling which was good. The second half did kill it really, but we still had to see the game out."

In truth, even though Quinn had spurned an earlier goal chance, whistled up for over-carrying with Galway's defence badly stretched, Dublin were lucky enough to be just three adrift at the break.

Then when Galway restarted with a hat-trick of points inside five minutes, via Conor Whelan, Joe Canning and Conor Cooney, Dublin diehards must have feared the worst.

Would they have reeled in a six-point deficit with 15 men? Dubious. But they were never going to do it with 14.

Perhaps their last chance evaporated when, trailing by seven, Eamon Dillon was penalised for steps as he bore down on goal. 'Trollier', the only starting Dublin forward who threatened to make inroads, fell into the goalmouth but it never looked a penalty in real-time.

But the resultant free-out, by Colm Callanan, sparked uncertainty in the Dublin full-back line and Conor Cooney took full advantage, accelerating clear and batting past Dooley.

Game over. Cooney and Joe Canning followed up with a brace of points to underline this terminal reality.

For Micheál Donohue, this was a case of job done, move on.

"The league was a chapter closed. The championship was always going to be something different. We said right throughout the league that this was our main focus," the Galway boss said. "Winning is a habit. We've done well in the last few games. We just keep going. That's the nature of the beast."

For Cunningham, it's a case of regrouping for the qualifiers but the odds on the Corkman seeing a fourth Leinster championship with Dublin have lengthened after yesterday.

Ramshackle

The performance wasn't nearly as ramshackle as their Tullamore replay against Galway in 2015 but, statistically, the 14-point margin was actually worse by one.

He had four SHC debutants in his starting 15 (Quinn, Moran, Eoghan Conroy and Burke) and several more off the bench. Reflecting on the step-up in physicality, Cunningham ventured: "They will learn from it. They'll go away and recover ... we have four or five weeks now to turn things around."

A favourable qualifier draw would offer them some guarded grounds for optimism. But, equally, it could turn ghoulish were they to be pitted against a wounded Tipp with a point to prove.

Their starting attack registered just 1-4 from play. Galway's front six, by prolific contrast, amassed 2-16.

Canning offset five wides with 0-4 from play and several assists, including a sublime pass to Flynn that should have ended in the net instead of being fired over. With Flynn, Conor Cooney and Whelan especially stretching Dublin's defence to breaking point, it's safe to assume that they'll banish Offaly on June 18 with the minimum of fuss.

The bigger tests can wait.

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