A youthful Galway team closed out this match fairly comfortably and while an off day in the league in late February is hardly enough to sound the alarm bells, it was strange to see Dublin lacking the energy that has become their trademark under Anthony Daly.
“Certainly not,” was the Dublin manager’s succinct reply when it was put to him that Dublin’s lethargic second half display was not what he might have hoped for.
They had been relatively well placed on the scoreboard at half time, trailing just 0-9 to 0-8 after Paul Ryan’s free brought the period to a close. But Liam Rushe failed to reappear for the second half and Peter Kelly hobbled off late in the match to round off a frustrating afternoon.
“Well, when in the context of last year’s league we played better in nearly every game than that so it was the worst. But yeah, it was a poor performance. I couldn’t call it anything else.”
For Galway, it was an encouraging beginning. Anthony Cunningham persisted with his policy of working with a young panel by selecting eight of last year’s U-21 panel on the team. Niall Burke had a fine afternoon, confidently assuming the free-taking duties in the absence of Joe Canning but also picking off five snappy points from play with impressive economy.
Conor Cooney also picked off four sharp points from play while James Regan, his St Thomas club man, struck three points. With Iarla Tannian back to fitness and moving well – he landed a wonderful point from halfway early in the second half – one thing was plain: the age of the small, tricky Galway forward is over.
The maroon forward unit was big and imposing – even without Joe Canning. And unlike many other league Sundays when Galway hurling has showed promise, there was a control about this performance.
Wides were kept to a minimum and the experience of David Collins and Fergal Moore was critical to a solid defensive unit in which Declan Connolly, Ger O’Halloran and Niall Donoghue were making full debuts.
At midfield, David Burke had an impressive afternoon, playing three clever, measured passes through the busy middle third of the field which yielded scores for the home team.
“They slotted in very easily into the game,” Anthony Cunningham – surely the busiest manager in Gaelic games just now – said of his younger charges.
“There will be tougher days ahead but there is good material there to work with and the guys are very willing. There are others to come but they got their shot today. It’s a very young panel and this is a development phase but having said that there are a lot of guys here you can work with.”
As it was, some of the Galway players had been involved in county U-21 championship games on Saturday and Sunday morning.
The squad also has Railway Cup duty next weekend before their visit to Thurles in a fortnight. With several also having been engaged in Fitzgibbon Cup duty in recent weeks, it has been a busy time but they made light of the demands here.
The teams traded points through the first half, with the best of the goal chances falling to Dublin. First, Paul Ryan gambled with a free on six minutes but David Collins managed to deflect it off the line for a 65. In the 22nd minute, Fergal Moore made a crucial block on a Shane Stapleton strike after Ryan played him through with a handpass and although Conor McCormack pointed to conclude the sequence of play, the Galway defence had stayed organised.
Once the game began to open up a little, the home team took charge, with Burke quick to take advantage of any space afforded him. It was one of those days when things went well for him;: his 49th minute strike was hit too low but it gave Dublin goalkeeper Gary Maguire a jittery moment as he deflected it over the bar to leave the score 0-14 to 0-11.
From there, Galway opened up a significant lead by picking off a series of quality points, with Damian Hayes opening his league account with a good strike on 55 minutes before Regan landed his third point after a fine catch and clearance from Niall Donoghue.
Dublin trailed 0-18 to 0-12 at his stage and although they made changes and pushed Ryan O’Dwyer into full-forward in an attempt to kick-start something, they never threatened a serious revival.
It was just the start Galway had hoped for: encouraging and solid but low-key.
“There will be tougher days ahead,” acknowledged Cunningham.
“To topple the might of Kilkenny or Tipperary, we will have to get up there. Dublin were short a few there today as well. But it was a great result and a good start for the lads.”
GALWAY: J Skehill; D Connolly, D Collins, G O’Halloran; T Og Regan, F Moore (capt), N Donoghue; D Burke, C Donnellan (0-1); C Cooney (0-4), N Burke (0-10, 0-4 frees, 0-1 65), I Tannian (0-1); D Hayes (0-1), B Daly, J Regan (0-3). Subs: J Coen for B Daly (34 mins), E Ryan for C Donnellan (61 mins), B Burke for J Regan (65 mins), J Cooney for C Cooney (69 mins).
DUBLIN: G Maguire; N Corcoran, P Kelly, R Treanor; M Carton, J Boland, S Durkin (0-1); J McCaffrey, D Sutcliffe (0-1); L Rushe (0-1), R O’Dwyer (0-2 frees), C McCormack (0-2); D Treacy, S Stapleton, P Ryan (0-6, 0-5 frees, 0-1 65). Subs: A McCrabbe for Rushe (half-time), D O’Dwyer for Stapleton (45 mins), S Lambert for D Treacy (49 mins), M O’Brien for Boland (51 mins), E Dillon for Ryan (60 mins).
Referee: D Kirwan (Cork).