Niall Scully is the two-goal hero in Dublin's win over Donegal
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, Group Two: Dublin 2-15 Donegal 0-16
GOALS win matches. Dublin could have had at least six, and although Donegal battled bravely, the margin of defeat was still the same as their League encounter in February.
It was that sort of match on Ireland's finest field of dreams in front of a fairly small crowd of just over 53,000 fans.
As usual the Hill was a wall of blue and their traditional raucous roar seemed to unsettle Donegal's rookie keeper Shaun Patton who hit seven very poor kick-outs but pulled off five remarkable saves which avoided an embarrassing rout.
In truth, Donegal would not have deserved a pasting from a Dublin side who strangely misfired and young starlet Con O'Callaghan will not be too happy with his two efforts that were brilliantly saved by Patton in the first half.
Donegal also had their goal chances, Paddy McGrath and Jamie Brennan going close in the opening half and Michael Langan blazing over the bar when a goal looked on nine minutes from time.
The losers hit 0-13 of their total from play and did not get many scorable frees in the Dublin half, but this is a testament to the discipline of the Dublin tackling.
As usual, Dublin played clever controlled football, showing the patience of a dentist persistently probing for the raw nerve. When they found it they split the Donegal defence wide open and grabbed those vital goals, while still performing at only around 80 per cent of their capability.
Amazingly there were no cards of any colours in this exceptionally mannerly encounter, but for Dublin a Saturday night trip away to Tyrone next week will be a totally different matter.
As it was, two expertly finished goals from ice cool Niall Scully was the real difference between the sides in a match in which Dublin had a whopping 68 per cent possession and led by seven points early in the second half.
But they still failed to put Donegal away, something that obviously irked their inscrutable manager Jim Gavin.
Scully struck like a rattler in the 26th minute about 20 seconds after Jamie Brennan had hit a good goaling chance high and wide at the other end.
Cluxton's kick-out found Scully and he cooly slid the ball between Patton's legs to the net.
The impressive wing forward struck again 90 seconds into the second half when he took a clever pass from wing-back Jonny Cooper and took his time before sliding the ball home and pushing Dublin into a 2-9 to 0-8 lead.
But the normal ruthlessness was not there and Donegal rallied to make a spirited comeback that just fell short. It was a creditable display especially in the absence of Paddy McBrearty.
Gavin made it clear afterwards that he was less than happy with five spurned goal chances after some nightmare kick-outs from Patton had gifted them some gilt-edged chances.
Patton brilliantly redeemed himself by pulling off three great saves, twice from Con O'Callaghan in the first half and once from Jack McCaffrey in the second.
“This performance going forward won't be good enough against Tyrone.
“We had chances but we did not convert them and that is particularly disappointing, especially as we spend most of our practice sessions perfecting the skills of the game, getting points and goals but that will not be good enough against Tyrone”.
And then he deftly and briefly switched the focus on to Tyrone.
“They have scored 7-44 in the last two games so we will need to be upping our scoring ratio at the other end and that gives us something to reflect on.
“We controlled the game well towards the end and the substitutes that came on played their part and it is all about coming away with the two points.”
Gavin was less happy with the conversion rate but made no excuse for failing to kick on, preferring to heap a few garlands on Donegal.
“It was more that Donegal are a class team and they are not going to let you get away and there was only two kicks of a ball in it at the end and that is more a reflection of their quality and determination and they will have a lot to say in this competition.”
So why did his normally accurate forwards misfire so blatantly?
‘Yes, it was one of those days but one of the positive things was that we kept our composure and we kept trying to work a score and we created a lot of scores in the game but we will just have to convert them up in Omagh.''
Dublin started like a steam train and sprinted into a 0-2 to 0-0 lead by the second minute with points from Dean Rock from a free and a 45.
Donegal were shaken but not unduly stirred and hit back with two fine points of their own, first from Jamie Brennan, who cut through the Dublin defence before arrowing over a fine left-footed point, and then a minute later when Frank McGlynn cooly pulled the trigger from 40 metres.
That set the pattern for a ding-dong first half with neither side able to canter clear. Undoubted highlight for Donegal was Ryan McHugh kicking the point of the half when he split the posts from the right hand sideline under the Cusack Stand.
It was real end-to-end stuff with Rock on target from frees and Michael Murphy and Con O'Callaghan exchanging scores, while Herculean blocks from Hugh McFadden stopped goal-bound efforts from O'Callaghan and Michael Darragh McCauley, and Patton atoned for two very poor kick-outs in the 15th and 29h minutes by denying Con O'Callaghan on both occasions.
Murphy and Brian Howard also exchanged scores before the game-changer came in the 26th minute.
It started with a long high ball into the Dublin full-backline where Michael Langan used his height to flick the ball to the on-rushing Jamie Brennan. For an instant a goal looked on but Brennan seemed to be caught in two minds as he skied the ball high and wide.
To compound Donegal's misery Stephen Cluxton' s laser kick-out ended up in the hands of Niall Scully who kept calm as he weaved his way through the Donegal defence before sending the ball through the legs of the unlucky diving Patton.
Scully's super strike put Dublin into a 1-5 to 0-5 lead and was a real heart-breaker for Donegal who had contained the Dubs fairly well otherwise.
Rock and James McCarthy added to Dublin's tally while Murphy, Ciaran Thompson and Jamie Brennan kept Donegal in touch and Dublin led by 1-9 to 0-8 at the interval.
After Scully's second goal, Hugh McFadden and Michael Murphy drove Donegal on and they gradually ate into Dublin's seven-point lead without ever looking like overhauling it. The Dubs closed out the match with an essentially unconvincing display of “keep ball”.
Donegal kept slugging away and this fairly young side absorbed a lesson in the sad school of experience.
But they have no time to brood, as they will be taking on a chastened Roscommon in Hyde Park, where defeat would be truly unthinkable.
Dublin; S Cluxton; M Fitzimons, C O'Sullivan, E Murchan ; B Howard (0-2), J McCarthy, J Cooper; B Fenton, M Darragh McCauley; N Scully (2-0), C O'Callaghan (0-1) C Kilkenny (0-1); P Mannion, D Rock (0-75f), Jack McCaffrey.
Subs C Costello (0-2) for M D McCauley (45), K McManamon for Paul Mannion (47), P Flynn (0-2) for B Howard (53), E Lowdnes for J McCaffrey (61) C Basquel for C O'Callaghan (70) D Daly for M Fitzimmons (74)
Donegal: S Patton, P McGrath, S McMenamin, E Ban Gallagher; F McGlynn (0-1), P Brennan, E Doherty (0-1): H McFadden, L McLoone; C Thompson (0-1), M Langan (0-2) R McHugh (0-2); O MacNiallais, M Murphy (0-62f,1 45) J Brennan (0-3)
Subs; E McGee for P McGrath (h-time), D O'Baoill for MacNiallais (50), C Mulligan for C Thompson (52), C Ward for E Doherty (56) A Thompson for P Brennan (61)
S McBrearty for J Brennan (65)
Conor Lane (Cork)