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Fermanagh respect despite Dublin's triumph

Dublin 2-23 Fermanagh 2-15

By Declan Bogue

Numbers can be bent to suit any argument, but Fermanagh will be happy with those that emerged from their highly-credible defeat to Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Up until now, Dublin had not conceded a goal in their Championship campaign. Fermanagh got two. They came within eight points of the Dubs. They 'won' the second half 2-9 to 1-10.

And here are some more surprising figures; for a team from the province with a reputation of cynical football, they conceded only four frees. A more seasoned outfit, say for example a Kerry, would have multiplied that by five.

And there were no cards of any colour, throughout the game. Again, if this was two 'top four' counties, you can only imagine.

Dublin go into an All-Ireland semi-final facing the winners of next Saturday's tie between Mayo and Donegal with huge issues that need addressed.

If a team who played their football in Division Three could hold a flashlight to their deficiencies, then the brains trust of either Mayo or Donegal, with their vastly-experienced panels, know they could inflict serious damage.

It felt for long stretches like a light-hearted interlude of the Championship; the football match to round off a village festival with scores, skills and spills.

In Sean Quigley, we had a player that was liable to do practically anything. He remains the highest scorer in the Championship with 3-36 and it could be more if he is officially credited with a 'goal' that would do justice to the yarns of games of yore.

When substitute Damian Kelly floated the ball in, Stephen Cluxton thought he had dealt with it before Quigley simply horsed him over the line in the finest traditions of 'man, ball and all.'

The tackle was illegal, with outfield players not allowed to touch the goalkeeper in the small square, but once an umpire began to go for the green flag, encouraged by Quigley, it planted sufficient doubt in referee Pádraig O'Sullivan's mind that he revisited the case and awarded the goal.

Boos rang down from the Dublin support on Hill 16. Quigley lapped it up.

Explaining afterwards, he said: "I honestly don't know what happened, whatever way he fell he ended up in the back of the net. It's not like him to do that, but there was a bit of a divot in the goal and whatever way he tripped over he went into the net."

The 24-year-old Roslea man brought flamboyance to the game, hitting eight points, half of them from the dead ball. After the goal, the camera picked up his beaming smile and it was plastered on the big screen. Pure carnival.

Asked about the boos the Dublin support gave him after that incident, he replied: "I enjoyed every bit of because I am going back to Roslea tonight. When you are from Fermanagh and small places like Roslea, you have to enjoy every minute of it. It was a great experience and hopefully we'll see it again".

That brought the margin back to 10 points with only eight minutes remaining, but for the rest of the game the Erne supporters cheered the subsequent 1-4 they would hit like they were winning scores.

Another goal came after Barry Mulrone had beaten Paul Flynn to a Cluxton kickout. Mulrone won a free that Quigley ushered to Richie O'Callaghan, he found Marty O'Brien in an advanced position and while he was superbly blocked down by Jack McCaffrey, the ball squirted in between Cluxton and Mick Fitzsimons. While both men dithered, Tomás Corrigan stole in behind them and tapped into the net, milking the moment of scoring a major in front of the Hill.

Those were the highpoints. This Fermanagh team have brought their supporters six Championship games after four years that brought only a single Championship win.

As manager Pete McGrath forcefully said afterwards, they will target their first ever Ulster title next year. This game could be a significant foothold for them.

But the winning of the game was always a prospect miles in the distance. By the 13th minute, Dublin were six points up, a goal arriving when McCaffrey intercepted a Declan McCusker pass intended for his brother Paul, and his delivery to Bernard Brogan caught Niall Cassidy unawares. Brogan fielded the ball and slotted home.

Fermanagh never were tempted to crumble like so many teams in Leinster do when faced with Dublin on a roll. It began to get a little ugly when the Metropolitans added another five points on the trot prior to half-time, but the second half in isolation produced a great spectacle.

Dublin had a goal of their own. Flynn began the move and they executed a three-man weave between Brogan and Dean Rock, who floated a handpass for Flynn to palm home with five minutes remaining. Rock also had one cleared off the line by James McMahon.

Next weekend's contests between Mayo and Donegal, and Tyrone and Monaghan, should produce something much feistier.

Dublin: S Cluxton (capt, 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), P Andrews (0-3), C Kilkenny (0-3); D Rock (0-7, 2f, 1x'45'), D Connolly (0-2), B Brogan (1-6). Subs: K McManamon for Kilkenny, MD Macauley for D Bastick (both half-time), A Brogan for D Connolly (47 mins), M Fitzsimons for J Cooper (50 mins), J Small for J McCarthy (55 mins), C Costello for P Andrews (65mins). Yellow cards: 0. Black cards: 0. Red cards: 0

Fermanagh: T Treacy; M Jones, M O'Brien, N Cassidy; D McCusker, R McCluskey, J McMahon; E Donnelly (capt), R O'Callaghan; B Mulrone (0-3), R Jones, R Corrigan; P McCusker, S Quigley (0-8, four frees), T Corrigan (1-2, 0-1 free). Substitutions: D Kelly for P McCusker (42 mins), C Jones (0-2) for D McCusker, T Daly for M Jones (both 54 mins). Yellow cards: 0. Black cards: 0. Red cards: 0

Referee: P O'Sullivan (Kerry).

Attendance: 58,630

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