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Friday 23 February 2018

It's all about next match for '50 up' Jim

Dublin 0-20 Donegal 0-15

MY BALL: Dublin’s Paul Mannion wins the ball during Dublin’s five-point win over Donegal Pic: Sportsfile
MY BALL: Dublin’s Paul Mannion wins the ball during Dublin’s five-point win over Donegal Pic: Sportsfile

It has taken Jim Gavin five years and a few short weeks to reach the half-century. This may be open to statistical challenge but we doubt that any other manager has won so many competitive games in Croke Park. And certainly not at such a breakneck speed.

Will the second 50 come as quickly?

The Dublin boss wasn't basking in his HQ record after Saturday night's curate's egg of a performance against Donegal. Truth is, he wasn't asked.

Dublin have won 50, drawn five and lost four of their 59 Croker appearances since it all started with a victory over Cork in February, 2013.

Gavin, though, was more inclined to look forward to the immediate challenge of Mayo, their perennial rivals, in Castlebar on Saturday night week.

"There's no doubt we're a little bit behind other teams. But a game like that (will help) ... the intensity that was there and the way Donegal really went at the game and we'd to dig deep mentally to get a result," he noted.

"That second half performance, even though we got over the line, wouldn't be good enough against Mayo. We'll definitely take a lot from that game."

RELEGATION-HAUNTED

Not all of it good; but we'll start with the positive. This was Dublin's third consecutive win in Division 1 and Donegal's third straight loss. On such fine margins ... the Ulster men have played a lot of enterprising football for no reward and a relegation-haunted vista.

The hosts' first half dominance was key, reflected in a 0-11 to 0-5 lead. After an even first ten minutes, Dublin turned up the heat on Peter Boyle's kickout, forcing him long ... with damaging consequences. They won nine out of 15 Boyle restarts before the break, three points stemming directly.

With Jonny Cooper imperious in a sweeping defensive role and Brian Fenton dictating midfield, the young guns made hay up front: Niall Scully ghosted in from the right flank for 0-4 while Colm Basquel was a buzzing menace, albeit his 0-2 before the break could have read 1-2 (he fluffed an easy free and flashed a goal chance over).

A case of Donegal showing the champions too much respect?

"I think so," their manager, Declan Bonner, surmised. "The first half we were slightly playing within ourselves. We just maybe stood back a bit from Dublin."

And yet they could have been within a goal, the livewire Jamie Brennan crashing an injury-time shot off Stephen Cluxton's upright after he had left Philly McMahon (not for the first or last time) in his despairing slipstream.

When Fenton stretched Dublin's lead to seven, straight from the throw-in, you feared the worst for Donegal. Instead, their fire was stoked by the first of Stephen McBrearty's two points and then fully ignited by a belated master-class from his big brother.

Initially, Paddy McBrearty had been starved of quality ball but moving deeper provided the outlet to reveal the full wizardry of his game: his six second half points included four carbon-copy scores from play, all from the left wing, all via his left-footed wand.

Dublin lost the third quarter 0-8 to 0-3, cutting their lead to a point. Their turnover tendencies were encapsulated by the surprising sight of Fenton kicking a crossfield sideline ball straight to Brennan, leading to one of the elder McBrearty's points.

But, crucially, Donegal never achieved parity. Michael Murphy, just back from minor groin surgery, came on to try inspire a victory charge only to be betrayed by rusty boots. He was unlucky with one attempted equaliser that fell tantalisingly short; less so with three wides, two from routine frees.

Perhaps it was no surprise that Dublin, in a tight corner, showed their mental fortitude to kick the last four points. The last three came from the bench; again no surprise. This time it wasn't the usual heavy-hitters, though: the last two insurance scores, in stoppage time, came from Ciarán Reddin and debutant Paddy Small.

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