Despite ill-discipline of key men, play-off reprieve with Galway has Dublin beaming
WE’LL start with the glass-half empty assessment: after six attempts, Dublin hurlers are still without their first victory in this year’s Allianz Hurling League.
Enough of the pessimism! Somehow, from the depths of disciplinary despair and facing near-certain demotion, Anthony Daly’s men conspired to rescue a draw from yesterday’s Division 1A relegation play-off in Tullamore.
Twenty-nine years after Heffo’s 12 Apostles made their way into All-Ireland legend, Dalo’s Baker’s Dozen have penned a new chapter in dogged Dublin resilience.
Two red cards during extra-time, for Ryan O’Dwyer and Alan McCrabbe, left Dublin staring into the Division 1B abyss. On three separate occasions in the home straight, 13 Dubs trailed 15 Galway men by two points.
But from somewhere, the numerically challenged outfit created two chances in the dying minutes and two of their subs, Daire Plunkett and then Niall McMorrow, from a high-pressure ’65’, converted both.
McMorrow was only on placed ball duties because Paul Ryan had been substituted and then McCrabbe dismissed. But the Ballyboden St Enda’s man held his nerve and, as a consequence, Dublin have held their top-flight status intact for another five days at least.
The replay has been fixed for 4.0 this Saturday afternoon in Portlaoise, coming after the All-Ireland U21 football semi-final between Dublin and Cork (2.0). Yesterday’s ultimately dramatic deadlock was a strange affair, a pretty wretched first half giving way to a much better second period and then a pulsating climax.
Even though Dublin surrendered a clear winning position at the end of normal time, snared by three injury-time points from Joe Canning, they were the ones almost celebrating at the finish.
“We’re thrilled,” Daly beamed. “With 13 men it seemed gone. To show that character. Daire Plunkett hardly on the field all year – to come on and get a point. And Niall McMorrow from a ’65’ – you wouldn’t have told me around January that would be the way it would be turning out.
“We asked them at half-time in extra-time to cut loose; we had nothing to lose. Just cut loose, try something, have a go – and they really did. It’s a great learning day again.”
Anthony Cunningham, for his part, also accentuated the positives despite conceding that his players should have closed out the game.
“We’d have been disappointed to lose but, with five minutes to go in normal time, it wasn’t looking too good for us. It was a great fightback, great character shown by this team,” he said.
Leading their second-half charge was a certain maroon ‘springer’ by the name of Canning. The former All Star had missed all five regulation league games with a shoulder injury and was pronounced a definite non-starter beforehand, only to be parachuted in at the 11th hour.
Initially, Canning betrayed feet (or even wrists) of clay but he cut loose on the resumption, floating to deadly effect having switched to centre-forward. He tallied 10 points in that second half, six from play including a 74th-minute leveller.
Canning’s influence waned again during extra-time and this explains our marginal Man of the Match preference for another Galway man – the one wearing Sky Blue, Niall Corcoran.
Corcoran was a font of excellence all through, reading the play brilliantly and making a series of vital interventions. Alongside him, you’d never have guessed that Peter Kelly was making his first appearance since February – he had an inspired second half, seemingly thriving as the pressure on Dublin’s defence intensified.
Mind you, while certain individuals flourished, this was anything but a foot-perfect Dublin performance. Two goals, emphatically finished by Conor McCormack (39 minutes) and Ross O’Carroll (57), kept their noses in front during a second period when a Canning-inspired Galway dictated much of the play.
And then, for a while, it turned even worse for Dublin. O’Dwyer’s 74th-minute misdemeanour was unseen in the press box but spotted by officialdom. Daly took issue with the decision to only punish his No 11, but the fact remains this was his third sending-off in the past 10 months.
Moreover, his previous straight red against Galway, at the same ground last June, left O’Dwyer facing a doubled-up two-match suspension and the doomsday scenario of missing Dublin’s first two SHC outings – including a potential semi-final against Kilkenny.
In that context, McMorrow’s priceless equaliser could have significant connotations for the championship and Dublin’s league status: O’Dwyer will complete half his suspension next weekend and be back for the Leinster semis, presuming the Blues don’t stumble against Laois or Carlow.
Dublin’s frustration at the erratic officiating of Barry Kelly was doubtless compounded by McCrabbe’s straight red for catching David Collins across the hand.
Replays suggested it was a harsh enough call, but at least McCrabbe will only be sidelined for next weekend.
“It was an unusual display of refereeing to say the least, but I suppose we’ve to get on with it,” Daly concluded.
Meanwhile, his opposite number signed off with a clarion call to the Galway public.
“We’re looking for the Galway supporters to get in behind this young team,” Cunningham urged.
“It’s not going to be all plain sailing and we’re only a couple of months into it.
“Dublin are an established team now, top four … for us to come here today and get a draw, take it to the wire, is huge for this young team. A lot of people don’t realise that that’s the standard Galway are at – they’re behind the top four.”
– Frank Roche – Evening Herald