Dónal Burke takes a free in the final minute of the hurling clash. Ben Brady/INPHO

Hurlers rising, footballers regressing? Contrasting fortunes for Dublin in Croke Park draws

Galway and Roscommon were the opposition for yesterday’s double-header.

A CROKE PARK double-header which finished in two draws.

The endings were similar, with last-gasp frees settling the scores, but the differences were striking.

A rather unfamiliar dynamic, with contrasting fortunes for the two Dublin teams in action.

Michéal Donoghue’s hurlers were up first at a sun-kissed GAA HQ. The majority of the 30,802 attendance were yet to descend on Jones’ Road as the Dubs turned in an impressive first-half display to stun Galway and lead by 10 points.

They were 2-16 to 0-12 up against Donoghue’s former side, fortuitous goals in the ninth and 27th minutes moving them into the ascendency. Cian O’Sullivan’s lobbed offering appeared more of an under-hit point, while Danny Sutcliffe’s effort was gift-wrapped after a TJ Brennan pass across goal went astray.

Yet Dublin were good value for their lead, outworking Henry Shefflin’s side and looking better in every facet. Dónal Burke typically led the scoring charge, but nine different players contributed on that front in total with their variation and range impressive.

They moved 12 points clear early in the second half but Galway, with a sting in their tail and likely harsh words from Shefflin ringing in their ears, produced a huge response.

They outscored Dublin 1-13 to 0-4 from there, Daithí Burke capping off a colossal showing with a 51st-minute goal and Evan Niland (0-10, 7f) and Joseph Cooney (0-5) among their top contributors on the scoresheet. The Tribe’s bench power, experience and know-how was key down the home straight.

They could have raised more green flags only for wasted chances and a superb Seán Brennan penalty save on Conor Cooney  – and looked like they would win convincingly when Jason Flynn and then Niland (free) put them in the lead twice in the dying minutes. But Dónal Burke was there to hit back on both occasions, first from open play and then from a 75th-minute free to ultimately share the spoils and bring his tally to 0-10 (6f, 1 ’65) for the afternoon.

eoghan-odonnell-dejected-after-the-game-ends-in-a-draw Eoghan O'Donnell dejected after the game ended in a draw. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

The Na Fianna sharpshooter registered four of Dublin’s six second-half points, and they really could have done with another scorer stepping up down the home straight.

The 2-22 to 1-25 draw sent Galway into the Leinster final to face Kilkenny, and Dublin to the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final against Carlow. 

While they’ll be hugely disappointed after giving up a 12-point lead and being so close, yet so far from reaching the Leinster final, that first-half performance will give Donoghue and Dublin great hope.

They set the tempo, brought the intensity and showed huge hunger. This is a young and enthusiastic side rebuilding under a new management team, and they appear to be moving in the right direction.

In a very different theme to recent times, the Dublin hurlers are rising while many feel that the footballers are regressing.

Croke Park filled up a little more for the second game, the full capital support now in situ to watch their widely preferred county team. The side that won six All-Ireland senior football titles in-a-row from 2015 to 2020, making it eight Sam Maguire successes in 10 years.

While Dessie Farrell’s charges recently won their 13th consecutive Leinster title, they operated in Division 2 this spring and no longer hold the aura of invincibility they once did.

Roscommon became the latest side to give them a run for their money yesterday, Donie Smith’s 74th-minute free securing a draw. But it was a game which really could have went either way.

The Rossies were much the better side in the first half, and were 0-9 to 0-5 ahead by the short whistle. A five-minute spell leading into the break encapsulated the opening period, as Davy Burke’s side out-Dublined Dublin. They enjoyed a lengthy unbroken passage of possession, patiently working the ball around the field as the Dubs barely laid a glove. The disgruntled Hill 16 faithful made their feelings heard, but Ciaráin Murtagh eventually swung over to move the Rossies into a five-point lead.

While a numerical advantage helped when Michael Fitzsimons was shown a black card, Burke and co came with a plan and implemented it, playing the game on their terms and controlling matters in the first half.

michael-fitzsimons-with-ruaidhri-fallon-after-the-game-ends-in-a-draw Michael Fitzsimons and Ruaidhrí Fallon after the football. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

They were braced for the Dublin response, and while Farrell’s charges clawed their way back into the game thanks to John Small’s scrappy 44th-minute goal and a brilliant individual display from Cormac Costello (0-7 – 2 ’45, 2f), they misfired once again. 

They had a spread of just four scorers — Con O’Callaghan and Seán Bugler both clocked two points — and uncharacteristically spurned several big chances to see out the game: they led by two points as the clock struck 70 minutes, but failed to capitalise as Brian Fenton and Tom Lahiff scuffed straightforward shots, while Dean Rock and Costello miscued placed balls.

Late frees from Conor Cox and Smith brought Roscommon back on level terms — 1-11 to 0-14 — but disappointment was the main emotion as they rued the draw afterwards. For Burke, this was a missed chance to down the Dubs and end the wait for the county’s first championship victory at Croke Park since 1980.

For Farrell and Dublin, there was likely a mixture of disappointment and relief.

The team’s downfall has been well-documented of late. From stalwarts off-form to younger talent not breaking through; and the lack of bench impact they prided themselves on for so long to question marks over the man in the hot-seat; it will be interesting to see how 2023 progresses.

Next weekend’s meeting with Kildare at Nowlan Park will present another big test.

On yesterday though; two draws, with contrasting fortunes for two Dublin teams.

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