no disgrace for minors
DUBLIN MINOR FOOTBALLERS
Disappointment was etched all over the face of Dublin manager Cyril Kevlihan as he reflected on his side's heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Donegal in their All-Ireland Minor Football Championship semi-final in Croke Park last Sunday.
The 1-12 to 1-11 final scoreline highlighted how close Kevlihan and Dublin had come to securing a final berth against Kerry on Sunday fortnight but the Thomas Davis clubman was content to praise the efforts of his players, despite the narrow loss.
"So much was invested in the team but that's sport. We gave it everything and a point defeat is no disgrace to the lads. We are very proud of them and they gave us great enjoyment over the year.
"The lads were brilliant all year and I said to them afterwards that the hurt that is there today will hopefully be a motivating factor for them as they continue their development in the game," added the Thomas Davis clubman.
That Dublin came so close will only add to the frustration of the Leinster champions with a couple of key moments going against them in a game that reflected the unique idiosyncrasies of football at minor level.
That Dublin could be in complete control after 20 minutes yet find themselves three points behind at the break was a bitter pill to swallow given how composed they had looked up until the concession of John Campbell's goal in the 23rd minute.
From that juncture, Donegal's confidence increased in direct correlation to Dublin beginning to question themselves and the Ulster champions took full advantage as their previous below-par shooting improved beyond recognition.
"Conceding a flurry of scores like that happens at this level," said Kevlihan.
"The lads are not machines but credit to Donegal as they took their chances when they presented themselves and put it on the scoreboard where it matters.
"We had to respond and I think we did respond but we just came up short at the end."
That Dublin were able to summon up reserves of character to regain their advantage by the end of the third quarter was hugely encouraging and Jack Burke's goal could well have been the pivotal score as both sides matched each other for the large part.
Further goals could well have ensued in the following four minutes but equally Donegal's dominance in the middle third was placing increased pressure on the Dublin defence and that pressure ultimately led to Ethan O'Donnell's match-winning score three minutes from time.
"I thought we had a good second-half after trailing by three points at the interval," offered Kevlihan.
"They got the momentum at a crucial time and that is what it is about at this level. They turned the screw.
"We have no regrets. We gave it everything.
"There was nothing between the teams. It was only a score at the final whistle," he added.
A tight encounter was always anticipated between two teams who had progressed comfortably through their respective provinces and a period of extra-time or even a replay looked the most equitable conclusion throughout the well-contested.
However, Donegal must be lauded for the manner in which they seized control for those crucial final ten minutes and manager Declan Bonner acknowledged the self-belief and confidence of his players as they approached the finishing line.
"I knew if it came down to the finishing line in the last ten minutes and if we were there or thereabouts we would come out on top because there is great belief in this team. We've had a three year run and we won all our championship matches and there is great self belief and you could see that today," said the 1992 All-Ireland winner.
"Even when Dublin got that goal, Donegal teams in the past would have folded maybe and lost that game by four or five points but our lads hung in and got the scores at vital times."
Kevlihan will now finish up his two-year stint as county manager but it is obvious that the pride he feels for his panel is tinged with disappointment at not reaching an All-Ireland final.
"It just wasn't our day sadly but good luck to Donegal, who are a good, strong team and are very well organised and they won it fairly on the day.
"We knew coming into the game that Donegal were a very good team and so it proved.
"We gave them their hardest game of the year so far and there was ultimately very little between the teams, as I expected before the game."