T’S been a while coming but the Dublin hurlers’ plain-sailing start to 2011 finally hit a jagged rock yesterday in Parnell Park where they were beaten by Galway, 2-11 to 0-14, to surrender their unblemished start to the season and, vitally, top spot in Division 1 of the League.
Those who believed that it had to come sometime were proved right but to say Dublin were makers of their own downfall would be to underestimate in the extreme.
The biggest crowd in recent Dublin hurling memory flocked to sunny Donnycarney filled with expectation and giddiness, but most left sickened by the plague which had unexpectedly beset their team over the 70 minutes.
We say plague because Dublin’s erratic shooting appeared contagious, spreading from man to man as the need for scores increased in proportion to their wide tally.
Wides, wides and more wides were the order of the day and Dublin’s forwards had a feast of them. They just couldn’t slot the ball over the bar often enough.
The tally itself of 19 is unforgivable in isolation but within that grand body of inaccuracy were some pretty bad misses. And some of those bad misses came at the precise moments Dublin needed to register.
Others blighted periods of heavy Dublin dominance (and there were plenty) that went ungarnished by a score. Oddly, Conal Keaney was the chief perpetrator.
He hit nine, including four frees but not counting his 46th-minute penalty miss which was saved on the line by Galway ‘keeper, Colm Callanan.
Dublin’s other major problem was that they didn’t score a goal and threatened all-too-rarely in comparison to their previous league outings while Galway pilfered two through Cyril Donnellan and Eanna Ryan, whose injurytime strike won the game.
It was, to that point, a close contest, low on style and high on pressure and tension. Dublin raced into an early advantage, first leading 0-5 to 0-0, then 0-7 to 0-2, with Daire Plunkett and Conor McCormack pitching quality scores.
They paid the price for their squanderlust and a fairly ineffective midfield, though, to go in just 0-9 to 0-8 up.
“We lulled a little bit in the 10 minutes before half-time,” manager Anthony Daly reflected. “We could have been three or four ahead and if you were able to push on and get the next few scores after half-time … look, it’s a learning curve.”
The score that changed the game was Donnellan’s goal, however, after he swept through the centre of Dublin’s cover in the 43rd minute to put Galway in the lead for the first time.
From there, Dublin were chasing the game and even though they were winning more breaking ball and generating more scoring chances, their final ball was woefully lacking.
They levelled through Paul Ryan, who shot three points upon his introduction – including one free after relieving Keaney of placed-ball duties – late on, but coughed up two match-winning chances to the Tribesmen, one missed free from David Burke and the goal from Ryan which ended the contest. Tasked with making sense of it all, Daly chose to excavate the positives.
“The type of fellas that were missing chances today, they’ll get them most days,” he offered, though it didn’t bode well that Dublin’s most squanderous performance came right on the day they needed it most.
And perhaps it is just a coincidence that their first defeat came just as the pressure of a looming League final began to creep in, who knows?
What is certain is that they now have six days to recover, reflect and prepare for Kilkenny in Croke Park, the sort of fixture which generally doesn’t offer much in the form of redemption.
“We had a lot of chances,” Daly acknowledged. “Conal, he just had one of those days. They didn’t pop over. We had a few silly ones then as well. Some days, they’ll all fly over for you. That’s the way of it. Hopefully, we’ll get them on a day when we really need them.
“I just said to them inside ‘if we believe in ourselves, we should take massive belief from that’.
We matched them toe-to-toe. We just didn’t capitalise. Galway took their chances. We didn’t.
“Overall, we’re disappointed but it’s also another day to reassure ourselves that we’re up there. And right up there,” added Daly.
“That’s what I would be taking out of it.