Dublin cruise past Donegal
DUBLIN 1-20 DONEGAL 0-13
This could have been the last ever Division 1 Football League semi-final to be played and nobody will shed too many tears at the GAA's recent decision to scrap them.
On what must have been one of the coldest ever April afternoons in Croke Park the 31,324 punters – at least those who stayed until the final whistle – deserve much credit for sticking around.
As was the case in the first game it was evident that this contest was effectively over at half time. And any doubts about that analysis were cast aside within ninety seconds of the resumption when Bernard Brogan's goal put eight points between the sides.
Not even the Donegal fans would have complained too much had the referee halted proceedings then and let everybody go somewhere to heat up. But of course the charade had to continue.
The reality is that this Donegal team are in a bad place right now. Having lost their last four games in the League – the last thing they wanted or needed was another visit to Croke Park to take on a super confident Dublin side which has now extended their unbeaten run to 21 games in league and championship.
There was never the remotest possibility of Dublin losing this game and such was the players' body language that all the signs were that all the players on the field accepted this analysis as well.
One statistic sums up the difference between the sides. Only three Donegal players, Patrick McBrearty, Michael Murphy and Martin McElhinny got on the score sheet whereas 11 different Dublin players – including the TG4 Man of the Match Ciarán Kilkenny – contributed to their impressive 1-20.
In truth, Dublin learned little from this cake-walk but at least the punters got the final they wanted - a showdown between Dublin and Kerry in two weeks' time. It will be their first meeting in a League decider since 1987 – Dublin won that contest and Kerry didn't contest another national final for a decade.
It is also of course, a repeat of last September's All-Ireland decider and it gives Eamon Fitzmaurice another opportunity to achieve what he has failed to do so far in his managerial career – guide the Kingdom to a win over Dublin in a knock-out match.
In the early exchanges there was no evidence of the rancour which had marred their League meeting. Donegal were less negative than usual – which was evident by the fact that Michael Murphy started and stayed on the edge of the square for the first quarter.
But with Dublin having the advantage of the gale he saw little action and eventually moved out the field where he was picked up by James McCarthy.
Surprisingly, Dublin didn't press up on Donegal's kick-outs in the early stages which allowed Mark Anthony McGinley to find his colleagues with all but one of his first eight restarts.
Once Dublin applied the full press McGinley was in trouble, however, and Donegal lost four of their last five kicks-outs in the half and Dublin kicked two of their 11 first-half points after winning Donegal kick-outs.
Without Diarmuid Connolly – he was replaced by Paul Mannion – Ciarán Kilkenny and Paddy Andrews shouldered most of the scoring responsibilites with the latter kicking two exquisite points while Kilkenny hit three from play.
Dublin led 0-4 to 0-1 after nine minutes but thanks to the brilliant free-taking of Michael Murphy the visitors hauled themselves back into the contest and there was just a point between the sides after 16 minutes.
Most of Donegal's attacking thrusts came via runs from Neil McGee and Paddy McGrath who lined out at full-back and corner back respectively. But on two occasions late in the first half there were signs that Dublin could still be caught as they were in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final against the Ulster side.
Sweeper Cian O'Sullivan – a late replacement for Eric Lowndes – was marked absent as firstly Ryan McHugh sailed through after Murphy flicked a kick-out to him but Paddy McBrearty opted to kick a point and then Murphy opened up the Dublin rearguard before being impeded by McCarthy. He kicked the resultant free to narrow the gap to three.
All but one of Stephen Cluxton's ten first half restarts went to a colleague and Dublin ended the half with a brace of points to lead 0-11 to 0-6 at the break and could have been further ahead but for the intervention of McGinley who brilliantly saved from Bernard Brogan in the 28th minute.
Brogan wasn't to be denied, however, and ninety seconds into the second half he effectively sealed Donegal's fate with an opportunistic goal after a brilliant foot pass from Philly McMahon put him in space.
Only a brilliant goal line clearance from Eamon McGee – at the expense of a point – prevented Dublin scoring a second goal in the 46th minute. As Dublin ran their bench Donegal did improve. They hit three frees on the spin between the 54th and 56th minute but with Michael Murphy having a bad day at the office – he kicked four of his side's 12 wides the comeback never gained any real traction.
McBrearty did trouble Jonny Cooper at times – the latter had to retire early after being pole-axed by Donegal substitute Colm McFadden. In the closing 15 minutes Dublin, though operating in second gear, still outscored Donegal 5-3 to win as comfortably as their ten-point victory margin suggests.
So they remain on target to join Kerry and Mayo as the only counties to win four League titles on the spin.
Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon (0-1), J Cooper (0-1), D Byrne; J McCarthy (0-1) C O'Sullivan, J Small (0-1); B Fenton, D Bastick; P Flynn, P Andrews (0-2), C Kilkenny (0-3); D Rock (0-5, 3f, 1 45), P Mannion (0-2), B Brogan (1-2). Subs: C Costello (0-1) for Andrews 45m, E Lowndes(0-1) for Bastick 48m; M Fitzimons for McMahon 52m; S B Carthy for Flynn 60m; K O'Brien for Cooper 61m; S Carthy for O'Sullivan 66m
Donegal: MA McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, K Lacey, C Gillespie; R Kavanagh, O MacNiallais; M O Reilly, M McElhinney (0-1), F McGlynn; P McBrearty (0-8, 4f), M Murphy (0-4, 4f), L McLoone. Subs: S McBrearty for O'Reilly 18m; C McGonagle for MacNiallais 49m; C McFaddenn for Elhinney 52m, E Gallagher for McLoone 66m; C Toye for Kavanagh 66m, J O'Brien for Gillespie 71m.
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)