Dublin were crowned Allianz Football League champions for the fifth time in six years on Sunday, as a battling performance and the team’s knack of taking control at the key moments saw the boys in blue over the line against a battling Galway side.
Galway have looked increasingly impressive this year, and had finished top of the Division One group stage after a much-changed Dublin side were pipped by Monaghan at Croke Park last week.
The Dubs have recently been solid but looked a lot less inspired, and seemed to be under threat of an almost unheard of second successive loss midway through the second half, as a match that had been nip and tuck throughout appeared to swing the Tribesmen’s way with the tame-ish dismissal of Niall Scully for a second yellow card after 50 minutes.
With the likes of Ciaran Kilkenny, Jonny Cooper and Stephen Cluxton restored to the Dublin starting 15, Galway full-forward Damien Comer was nevertheless the stand out in the early stages, a constant threat as he buzzed around the Dublin backline.
It was a scrappy, physical contest, centred heavily around the impact of Galway’s increasingly notable defence, with Kilkenny and Paul Mannion both finding tiny fractions of space in the Galways defence early on to open up a 0-5 to 0-3 lead for the Dubs.
Galway’s stifling aggression started to take hold, however, with Barry McHugh every bit as good as Dean Rock from the set-pieces, and they were the better side heading into the break, with Dublin a little fortunate to remain at 0-8 a piece.
The best chance of the half had fallen to Mannion, with Ruairi Lavelle tipping a fine effort on goal over the bar on 23 minutes.
Dublin had edged into a two point lead early in the second half, a lead that held until Scully was shown red for two quick consecutive bookings. That margin was almost immediate eliminated by Galway as soon as the half-forward trotted from the field. An exchange of points ensued as the contest remained tight, though it appeared Dublin were staying in the contest largely thanks to Galway’s free concessions.
Then came the character that has helped Jim Gavin’s side stand out: come the hour, come the push. Philly McMahon and Rock were critical in taking chances, while Colm Basquel is looking increasingly like a Championship player, as he made an impact off the bench, grabbing 0-3.
Stepping up when it counted, the Dubs snatched a succession of points in the closing stages, and won out by 0-18 to 0-14 thanks to that late flurry. Though the score flattered a touch, the winning margin was obtained entirely whilst down a man.
All in, it was more a ground out, character-building win that led to Cluxton lifting the trophy again than the emphatic victory Dublin fans have become used to.
Despite the win, there are a few areas of concern around the Dublin camp at the moment, not least in the continuing unexplained absence of Diarmuid Connolly, and the side’s propensity for red cards over the course of the league.
That said, we’re still a way short of the sharp end, and that the Dubs have come out on top anyway is a sign of how strong Gavin’s side have become. They’ll take the win, and work on adding that polish.