Dublin ease past Fermanagh
DUBLIN 2-23 FERMANAGH 2-15
Dublin have rolled into their sixth All-Ireland semi-final on the spin where they meet the winners of next weekend's quarter final between Donegal and Mayo.
It was a curious contest because even though Dublin never remotely looked like losing before an attendance of 58,680 it was the minnows Fermanagh who were buzzing at the final whistle.
Losing by eight points to Dublin has to go down as a moral win for the Ulster minnows who actually outscored the 1/200 favourites in the second half (2-8; 1-10).
Admittedly, the bizarre goal that sparked the Fermanagh renaissance ought to have been disallowed as Seán Quigley pushed Stephen Cluxton over the line.
Nevertheless, the manner in which Fermanagh repeatedly carved open the Dublin defence in the closing minutes will be a source of real concern to Dublin boss, Jim Gavin in the weeks ahead.
After Cluxton's bizarre 60th minute own goal Dublin replied with their second goal in the 65th minute from Paul Flynn - who gave his most assured performance of the season.
But there was never a hint of a Fermanagh collapse as had happened in the first match between Kerry and Kildare.
Admittedly, there was nothing but garbage time remaining. Still, Fermanagh gave their huge following a winter of wonderful memories by tagging on another 1-2 with a solitary reply from Dublin.
The injury time goal came from Tomas Corrigan after Jack McCaffrey had blocked down a goal bound effort from the excellent Marty O'Brien, who in his primary role as a defender restricted Diarmuid Connolly to two points and held Connolly's replacement Alan Brogan scoreless.
Fermanagh deserved the standing ovation they received at the final whistle; chalking up the biggest score against Dublin since Donegal took them for 3-14 in last year's semi-final was a signficant achievement for a team that played in Division 3 this season.
Seán Quigley led the forward charge for Fermanagh kicking eight points - four from play while Barry Mulrone, who did excellent work in defence, also kicked three points.
But we mustn't lose sight of the fact that Dublin - who were awarded only four frees during the seventy minutes - did win the game!
Bernard Brogan hit a match winning tally of 1-6 while Dean Rock underlined his value to the side with his 0-7 contribution.
Despite their best efforts Fermanagh still found themselves ten points in arrears at the break (1-13; 0-6).
Showing a lot more urgency than in the Leinster final Dublin looked capable of scoring every time they attacked and punished Fermanagh every time they turned the ball over.
Fermanagh did well on their own kick-outs, winning 12 of the 18 restarts, but they never committed enough men forward to seriously trouble the Dublin defence. They were forced to take a lot of speculative shots which accounts for the fact that they hit nine wides - whereas Dublin only kicked four.
One curious statistic from the first half was Fermanagh's concession of a single free whereas Dublin conceded 12. But it is scores that win matches and by the break all six Dublin forwards - Paddy Andrews was a late replacement for Kevin McManamon - had registered scores from play.
Indeed, all of Dublin's first half tally of 1-13 came from play with Bernard Brogan - who had proved too elusive for James McMahon initially and then Niall Cassidy - taking the honours with a 1-4 return.
His 13th minute goal illustrated the way to beat the sweeper system with Jack McCaffrey's looped foot pass bypassing sweeper Ryan McCloskey and Cassidy who had drifted away from Brogan, who doesn't miss these gift chances.
The third quarter was more of the same. Dublin put more pressure on Fermanagh's kick outs and won three of the first six. When they led 1-21o 0-11 at the hour mark they looked set for routine win.
But what happened in the last ten minutes leaves a lot of unanswered questions ahead of their first championship match this season against a Division 1 side at the end of the month.
Dublin: S Cluxton (1-0 og); J Cooper, R O'Carroll, P McMahon; J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J McCaffrey; B Fenton (0-1), D Bastick; P Flynn (1-1), C Kilkenny (0-3), D Connolly (0-2); D Rock (0-7, 1 45, 2f), P Andrews (0-3), B Brogan (1-6). Subs: MD Macauley for Bastisk ht; K McManamon for Kilkenny ht; A Brogan for Connolly 48m; M Fitzmaurice for Cooper 50m; J Small for McCarthy 56mm; C Costello for Andrews 66m;
Fermanagh: T Treacy; M Jones, M O'Brien, N Cassidy; D McCusker, R McCloskey, J McMahon; E Donnelly, R O'Callaghan; B Mulrone (0-3), R Jones, R Corrigan; P McCusker, S Quigley (0-8, 4f), T Corrigan 1-2, 1f). Subs: D Kelly for P McCusker 43m; C Jones (0-2) for D McCusker 54m; T Daly for M Jones 54m.
Referee: P O'Sullivan (Kerry)