INTERVENTIONS don’t come any timelier or bearing more importance that they did from Liam Rushe or Conal Keaney in Parnell Park on Saturday night and a sketchy one-point win was never more gratefully accepted.
Keaney, looking in every regard back to his brilliant best, slamming over a fistful of points, all utterly essential, skilfully finished and timed to maximise effect.
And Rushe, in the last scattered dregs of the game, emerging from the mess of bodies fighting fervently for the final ball. Showing the composure to move away from the throng, steady himself, take the hit and win a free out.
Full time. Phew.
Sparse and shivery were the supporters in Parnell Park on Saturday for Dublin’s Allianz League Division 1B opener but at once, each one let out an audible sigh of relief into the freezing February night.
Dublin 1-20 Offaly 2-16. It was that sort of white-knuckle night for Dublin. Probably, needlessly so, as acknowledged by both camps afterwards, but it’s arguable whether winning with style or winning with bottle and a dab of drama is of greater benefit for Dublin just now.
If February is about getting the nuts and bolts in place, February 2013 is equally about getting back into the winning habit, and after Saturday night, Anthony Daly’s men have already equalled their League and Championship victory tally of last season.
That it was so close was largely attributable to a failure to score a goal to shake Offaly off when, as Daly pointed out, “you kinda felt you were dominating possession”.
“It’s not great for the blood pressure on the line but it’s great to be coming away with the win in a game like that and show a bit of character when we could have panicked,” he said.
His oul’ Clare mucker Ollie Baker was equally honest about which team had deserved victory, admitting: “If we did get something out of it, we would have felt we would have stolen it”, but who better than Offaly to steal something from a contest they trailed for so long?
There were, in fairness, mitigating factors; the pitch, and an erratic refereeing performance being two.
And as for the nuts and bolts, there were plenty of fine individual displays and Daly’s assertion that “it was hard to make substitutions because fellas were performing well but as a unit, we didn’t quite click,” was certainly true.
Still, the performance of Keaney, in particular, will have warmed Daly’s heart. Back fully fit and hurling with gusto and his five fine points from play (including one boomer from behind half-way, reminiscent of his improbable point in the League final of 2011) all came at crucial intervals when, in any respect, his team needed a score.
Rushe, in his new and perhaps now permanent home of centre-back, warmed to his task in the second half, in particular, ruling the airways around the apex of Dublin’s defence, taking heavy belts while still managing thoughtful clearances.
Similarly, Michael Carton saw more ball than just about any Dublin player and even Baker’s decision to move Joe Bergin from centre to wing-forward, presumably to take him out of Rushe’s jurisdiction, had limited effectiveness.
Of the forwards – bar Keaney – Conor McCormack was perhaps the most impressive, claiming three points and driving the team forward when he was moved out the pitch and while Joey Boland, Johnny McCaffrey and Danny Sutcliffe also thrived in patches, there remains an aching need for Dublin to create more space and take a higher percentage of goal chances.
“Maybe we were a bit too manufactured in that we tried to do the perfect thing rather than do the more natural thing,” offered Daly.
“We talked about that at half- time but we didn’t create as much in the second half.”
The one they got, however, was utterly crucial, coming as it did just a minute after Shane Dooley had mustered a scrappy one for Offaly to narrow the gap to an improbable two points by the 55th minute.
McCaffrey went on a storming run through the heart of the Offaly defence, played a one-two with Paul Ryan and had his shot saved by James Dempsey but Sutcliffe was on hand to fire home the rebound.
The smidgen of comfort that score granted Dublin didn’t last long though. Their half-back line might have been on top, but Offaly smartly moved the trio around, getting in behind and winning frees and Dooley, typically, had a field day, finishing up with the monumental tally of 2-10 (1-9f, 0-1 sideline) and he buried his second goal from a free in the 66th minute.
Offaly, as Daly pointed out, “smelled blood,” and Dooley’s sideline left just a point between the team entering injury-time.
With one last, unlikely chance at salvation, a long free out of defence found only the safe paw of Rushe and just as Gary Maguire took the resultant free, James McGrath blew for full-time.
“That was great character from Liam Rushe there at the death,” praised Daly.
“Liam called that ball, went up, caught it and went away with it. That’s what you want. That’s showing leadership at the vital times.
“We carved out a win. And hopefully in the next four games, we can get three or four results and get into the final. That’s the target.”