Fif­teen mus­ke­teers are all for one and one for all

Jim Gavin’s big­gest prob­lem is who to leave on the bench in the fi­nal, says Colm O’Rourke

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES -

The usual sus­pects were not quite as bril­liant as usual

THE tone of the game was set from be­fore the first whis­tle. At the start of this game Eoghan Kerin, the Gal­way cor­ner back, was giv­ing Paul Man­nion a bit of a rough time. He might as well have been bat­ter­ing Stone Cold Steve Austin, the big name of WWF from the past. It only served to an­noy Man­nion who went on to score four points and give an­other self­less per­for­mance. He typ­i­fied the Dublin team; all for one and one for all.

They are the 15 mus­ke­teers with a lot of help com­ing from the bench. Imag­ine be­ing a Gal­way back, do­ing fairly well on your man and then see­ing Kevin Mc­Mana­mon or Paul Flynn com­ing on. Or worse still, Cormac Costello, who looks in rude health, an­other one of th­ese im­pact subs who prob­a­bly hates the ti­tle and will feel he should start in the fi­nal.

Who to leave off is Jim Gavin’s prob­lem. Few man­agers have ever had such a quandary go­ing into an All-Ire­land fi­nal. Not alone has he all the main men from pre­vi­ous years, but Brian Howard is a mas­sive ad­di­tion.

Up to yes­ter­day the same could be said for Eoin Mur­chan, who has done a re­mark­able man-mark­ing job on top play­ers up to now, but he looked at times like a lit­tle boy lost and Ian Burke was mak­ing hay on him in the first half. When Mick Fitzsi­mons took over the man mark­ing du­ties in the sec­ond half, Burke’s in­flu­ence waned, but he could be ex­cused on the ba­sis that the sup­ply also dried up.

Gal­way needed to be in front early and hope to sur­vive the sec­ond half on­slaught. They had chances, and a few more long balls into Burke and Damien Comer in the full for­ward line could have reaped rich div­i­dends. Dublin did not seem overly con­cerned about de­fence, Philly McMa­hon of­ten took to wan­der­ing up­field, and there were one-on-ones in the full for­ward line.

Yet the ball in was slow and in the sec­ond half, when Gal­way kicked long there were a few ex­tra de­fend­ers. Gal­way could have had a cou­ple more goals in the first half, Stephen Clux­ton was down smartly but Ea­monn Bran­ni­gan’s penalty was a bit close. On an­other oc­ca­sion a short kick-out was spilled, again Clux­ton was alert and his kick-outs were as ac­cu­rate and com­posed as ever.

For much of the game Dublin looked as if they were play­ing well within them­selves and at the end they did not look as if they had a hard cham­pi­onship match. The faces of the team did not show the scars of bat­tle: no sunken eyes, no great sweat on a warm evening. It could have been a leisurely kick around such is their level of fit­ness, power and sheer foot­ball abil­ity.

Con O’Cal­laghan was back to his best form too af­ter a series of games when things were not go­ing well for him. Yet it was also ob­vi­ous that a player like him would come good on the big day as his workrate and sheer ef­fort is sec­ond to none. It was only a mat­ter of time be­fore the small things would drop into place and he was back scor­ing again.

The great thing from a Dublin point of view was that the usual sus­pects were not quite as bril­liant as usual, but play­ers like Howard, Man­nion and Jack McCaf­frey took the lead. It is like try­ing to mind mice at a cross­roads, once a cou­ple are cor­nered some­body else es­capes and does the dam­age. The com­bi­na­tion of ath­leti­cism and qual­ity foot­ballers has rarely been let loose for such a pro­longed pe­riod, the only team that I can re­mem­ber with such tal­ent was the Kerry team of the 1970s — and they did not have the ar­ray of subs that sit im­pa­tiently be­hind Gavin.

Gal­way can look back on the year with a de­gree of sat­is­fac­tion. A Con­nacht ti­tle and progress from the Su­per 8. Yet they must be a lit­tle de­spon­dent too when they look on the gap be­tween them and the Dubs. The league fi­nal was a mi­rage, Dublin only played that day for a while and were al­ways gear­ing up for a sum­mer cam­paign. All-Ire­lands are now the cur­rency in Dublin and they are within touch­ing dis­tance of an­other. Not only that, but the con­cern is that no­body this year has been able to take them into the red zone the way Mayo did pre­vi­ously.

An­other easy win for Dublin, the same head­line as we’ve seen all year. The game was not re­ally a con­test, but this Dublin side are an adorn­ment on the game with the way they play and how they con­duct them­selves off the field. Hope­fully the win­ners to­day can ask more search­ing ques­tions than Gal­way did, but there is a sense of in­evitabil­ity about the sum­mer sea­son.

Photo: Seb Daly

Cormac Costello of Dublin scores a point past Gal­way’s Ruairí Lavelle in Croke Park yes­ter­day.

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