Dublin’s preparations for their upcoming Walsh Cup campaign continued yesterday lunchtime as an experimental selection improved after the break to record an eight-point win over Ulster Club Champions Loughgiel at a chilly Portmarnock.
This victory followed up on Friday evening’s 4-17 to 1-11 win over NUI Galway which saw the much-heralded return of Conal Keaney who impressed as did Shane Durkin and Daire Plunkett but the encouragement derived from that display was largely negated by a sometimes sloppy and uncertain performance yesterday.
That the Dubs gave a lethargic display was understandable given their workload at present, with manager Anthony Daly far from concerned as he assessed his afternoon’s viewing.
“I think the attitude was a bit sharper on Friday evening. Mind you, we had a couple of words at half-time and we were able to up our display after that,” added the Clare native.
Certainly, there were mitigating factors in a less than impressive opening period where Dublin produced an error-strewn effort which was punctuated by misplaced passes and the concession of far too many scoreable frees.
A heavy training schedule over the past week which included a fitness test on Saturday morning and the energy sapping pitch at Naomh Mearnóg (Portnarnock) were obvious factors in Dublin’s initial struggles, a fact acknowledged by Daly.
“It wasn’t quite as sharp as we would have liked but the boys did a fitness test on Saturday and there was definitely an element of tiredness there this afternoon.
“We’ve had a good week with training on Tuesday and Thursday added to a match on Friday night and that fitness test on Saturday but that’s what you need to be doing in January,” said Daly.
“We were also stretched a bit with the flu with five lads missing today so we brought in lads like Robbie Mahon, Jack Doughan and Tomas Connolly, who all did very well despite not being current members of the panel.
“It was great to bring them in and have a look at them and it’s a very good incentive for them coming in and being part of the set up.”
Mahon, in particular, availed of the opportunity given to him with an impressive display from wing-forward and later at midfield with the Craobh Chiaráin player plundering 1-3 from play, showing great composure and athleticism throughout.
Another player to impress was Conor McCormack, who also notched 1-3, and the Ballyboden St Enda’s clubman could well become a central figure in Daly’s plans, offering a strong physical presence, allied to deceptive pace and genuine aerial ability in the half-forward line.
His goal, six minutes from time, was a quintessential McCormack strike as he gathered the ball 50 metres from goal, leaving defenders in his wake before planting a cool finish to the net from 10 yards to seal Loughgiel’s fate.
The Antrim club, continuing their preparations for the All-Ireland Club Championship semi-finals, showed up well from the start and both Bernie MacAuley and Joey Scullion punished Dublin’s indiscipline with metronomic free taking. Scullion was also on hand to avail of a slip from Dublin full-back Stephen Hiney to plant a cracking pull to the net across Finn McGarry for the game’s opening goal on the half hour to help his side to a merited 1-9 to 0-9 interval lead.
Dublin improved markedly upon the restart and after Connolly and David Curtin added early points, Mahon was on hand to sweep home after Damien Quinn had acrobatically denied Shane Ryan with a sublime save in the 38th minute.
This score had a galvanising effect on the Dubs, who began playing with a greater degree of fluency and confidence with points from Ryan, David O’Callaghan, McCormack and Niall McMorrow the highlights in a largely dominant second period.
Manager Daly will now turn his attention to the Walsh Cup and he is reasonably optimistic despite a large number of absentees due to college commitments.
“It was a good work-out today. The scoreline doesn’t matter too much as we’re just trying to reach a certain level of performance at this time of year.
“We’ll be down at least 11 players with the Fitzgibbon Cup lads absent … I still think we’ll have a nice team out, with the likes of Conal (Keaney) coming in and Joey Boland won’t be involved with the colleges this year so he’ll be available,” said Daly, whose side will play the winners of Westmeath and Antrim on Sunday January 23 in the Walsh Cup.
– Rónán Mac Lochlainn – Evening Herald