Intense Down gave us lesson - Gilroy
Dublin suffer surprise loss in Newry due to 'ferocious' Mournemen's physicality
IF the league is a great indicator of anything, it's that it's really not much of a consistent indicator of anything at all.
You take a mid-ranking Ulster team apart in Croke Park one week and then you struggle to contain the enthusiasm and vibrancy of another, only slightly higher-ranked Ulster team the following Sunday.
So it goes.
Dublin succumbed to a bout of league-itis in Newry yesterday, giving Down two well-earned and much-needed points in a keenly congested Division 1 with a 0-15 to 1-10 win.
The fluency of movement and confident industry which oozed from Dublin a week earlier was only notable for its absence. The effort was there, certainly. But Down set the tone in just about every respect.
"The intensity of Down in the first half really gave us a lesson," admitted Pat Gilroy afterwards. "They were ferocious in everything they did."
That they were, and one of the most interesting aspects of the Down performance on the day was the aggression and physicality with which they defended, a trait which James McCartan singled out as being painfully absent after last year's championship overwhelming by Cork.
The Down backs 'mixed it' and kept Dublin to 11 scores and few other quality chances, their midfield of Kalum King and Ambrose Rogers won their battle overwhelmingly early on, and when the Mournemen had the ball, they pinged it around their deep-lying runners with ease until an opening materialised.
McCartan's mission to turn them from football's entertainers to a more comprehensively effective unit is obviously gaining traction.
"Call a spade a spade. We probably caught Dublin on the hop," offered McCartan afterwards. "They had a massive win last week against Armagh and we maybe ambushed them a wee bit. But it's great. We'll take that all day long. We needed the points. We'll take those two.
"We're delighted the way the team performed. We probably felt we were worth more than a two-point win but they looked like they could get another goal or two and if they had sneaked another one, we would be going up the road with nothing."
Perhaps, but Down's dominance would not have deserved such a fruitless outcome. By half-time - and after playing against a stiff wind - they led by 0-8 to 0-4, leaving Dublin with too much ground to claw back.
With Mark Poland, Danny Hughes and Aidan Carr to the fore, they seized breaks and pulled Dublin's defensive unit out of position and zoomed into the gaps.
Poland, in particular, was making hay all over the park and Carr was happy to profit with four frees and five points in all.
Somewhat uncharacteristically, Dublin weren't generating decent possession from their own kick-outs but in Kevin McManamon, they did, at least, have a potential game-breaker.
His second-half goal - a typical surge along the endline and finish low into Brendan McVeigh's net - was reward for perseverance after two earlier efforts had yielded a point and a narrow miss.
They had other chances, though. Diarmuid Connolly had a brilliant snap shot from long distance saved by Brendan McVeigh, and Barry Cahill - making his seasonal reappearance as a second-half sub - actually had the ball in the net but Paul Brogan was adjudged to have stepped over the endline before squaring it across the face of the goal.
Tellingly though, Down responded to McManamon's goal by hitting in the next three points and Dublin -- with Eoghan O'Gara missing through (groin) injury -- didn't have a target man to aim for and failed to get enough quality ball in front of Connolly and Alan Brogan.
"I suppose four down against the wind was a big challenge for us, Gilroy noted. "We were much happier with the second half and yet we still didn't get to their intensity. They were at a different level to us in that area. That's a good lesson for us because they put us into great trouble in the first half.
"We were at a different level last week and didn't get up that level this week with our intensity and that's the bottom line.
"In fairness to Down, they brought plenty of it here today and I'm very happy that in the second half we did respond and got it back to two or three points. Maybe we could have 'snuck' a draw in the end but overall it wouldn't have been fair to Down," he added. "They were the better team today."