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O’Callaghan Leads Dublin's Master Class But Doubts Over Defence Remain

Dublin steamrolled yet another would be challenger to their All Ireland crown in a facile Super 8’s win at Croke Park yesterday. This time it was Roscommon’s turn to test their mettle against the 4-in-a-row All Ireland champions at HQ. Despite some courageous individual performances from the Rossies, the Dublin machine mercilessly ground them into pulp with a commanding 18 point victory.

Like their battered Leinster counterparts, Meath, there is still much to admire about Roscommon’s bravery this year. Steeled by plucky defensive performances from the Daly brothers, Anthony Cunningham’s side defeated Galway and Mayo on their way to a 2nd Connaught Championship in 3 years. Team captain, Enda Smith, would make the first 15 in almost every team in the country and there has been some outstanding marksmanship up front from dynamic Kerry import, Conor Cox.

Unfortunately, that’s where it ends.

Roscommon were well out of their depth here. There was simply no answer for the extraordinary composure and clarity of execution from Jim Gavin’s charges.

This was by far Dublin’s most complete first half performance in the Championship to date. The Dubs were in total control from early on and only let up for a brief, uncharacteristically complacent period in the second half when the result had become all but academic.

It was a vastly improved opening for the metropolitans who had started very slowly against Meath in the Leinster Final - and even more slowly against Cork in the first leg of the Super 8’s. Doubtless, Jim Gavin was keen to address any potential complacency seeping into the squad and they went about their business here with the lethal calm of an assassin.

The Dublin attack was spearheaded by Con O’Callaghan, who is simply having a magnificent season at corner forward. In the opening five minutes, he leapt like a salmon to claim a high ball spectacularly over his opponents head and instantly won a free.

In the very next attack, he lost his marker with a powerful sprint to win another free right in front of the posts. An in-form Dean Rock finished them but Con made them. It set the tone for the whole game. He added two more off his own boot, one coming from another spectacular high catch.

We’re used to marvelling at Con’s dizzying, jinking runs through opposition defences, but there was a completely different skillset on display here. This was O’Callaghan owning it with power and speed on the ground AND in the air. He’s got it all and he’s only 23.

I’ll see your David Clifford and raise you one Con O’Callaghan.

Dean Rock put an end to Dublin’s 2019 place kicking micro-drama starring himself and Cormac Costello. Cormac played some of the best football we’ve seen this year in the National League and the earlier rounds of the Leinster Championship, but Dean Rock’s cameo performances as an impact sub against Cork and Meath coupled with yesterday’s 1-11 tour de force (10 frees plus a trademark fisted goal) has simply put the question beyond all reasonable doubt.

As the All Ireland semi-final approaches, this was an important matter to settle and Jim Gavin will be delighted with the response from Deano. This most crucial of boxes, the placekicker, has been ticked.

3 points from Ballymun substitute, Paddy Small, illustrated clearly why Bernard Brogan has found it so hard to break into the team while another brilliantly taken, net-bursting goal from ever green centaur, Michael Darragh Macauley, delighted the fans on Hill 16. At the age of 32, it’s a joy to watch MDMA having one of his best, most consistent Championships in years.

More power to your elbow, Horse!

If the attack was humming like a well-oiled machine, the Dublin defence wasn’t exactly having it all their own way.

The first score of the game by Roscommon’s Colin Compton betrayed a burgeoning problem in the heart of the Dublin defence. Inconceivably, Dublin have gone soft through the middle.

Compton was allowed to run completely unhindered right through the D to pick an easy point. With a little more ambition, he could have tried for a goal.

Elsewhere, Philly McMahon got a 3 point roasting from Conor Cox. And it comes just one week after Mick Fitzsimmons got an even worse hiding from Cork’s Brian Hurley.

It suggests that all is not well in the Dublin fullback line and it’s not hard to guess why.

Cian O’Sullivan is the glue that binds the Dublin defence together but he was warming the subs bench at Croke Park yesterday, the defence none the better for his omission.

Cian played a brilliant game against Meath in the Leinster Final, but against Cork, Paul Kerrigan plundered freely with 3 from open play and Jim Gavin wielded the axe. The message is clear. With just one more game to the semi final, inconsistency at centre back just will not be tolerated.

Jonny Cooper can do the job, but that sweeper role is the fulcrum of the Dublin defensive strategy. It was carved out specifically by Gavin for Cian O’Sullivan after the 2014 Donegal watershed and it’s a role he has played magnificently ever since.

But not yesterday.

James McCarthy is the go-to man when O’Sullivan is not in the team but centre back is not the ideal position for James either. His natural game is far better suited to an attacking wing back role where he can decimate opposition defences with his powerful running from deep.

It’s an unforeseen problem as O’Sullivan is one of the best defenders we’ve ever had in a Dublin jersey and one of only three players in the Dublin squad to have started every All Ireland Final this decade (Cluxton and McCarthy are the other two).

You’d never doubt Cian to fight his way back into the team, but with just one more game to go until the All-Ireland Semi Final, he’ll have to find form very quickly or Jim Gavin is going to have to find an alternative solution.

Tyrone up next in Omagh. It's possibly the first glimpse we'll see of Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly this year.

Wait for the roar.

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