Dowling, Costello, Shanagher – 2018 was the year of the impact sub in an era of marathon games

THE HURLING AND football championships witnessed the dawning of a new age during the 2018 season. 

Cormac Costello celebrates winning the All-Ireland final.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Alterations to the provincial hurling competitions, the arrival of the Super 8s series and the new dates for the All-Ireland finals have changed the landscape of the GAA.

Like with any movement in sport, teams have had to adapt to these changes and the increased number of games has tested the depth of panels across both codes.

Additionally, the GAA is now in an era where matches are closer to 80 minutes in length rather than 70. This is largely due to the time accumulated through substitutions, with referees adding on roughly 20 seconds for every sub that is made.

The All-Ireland football final produced seven minutes of added time while the hurling decider lasted for 78 minutes, although a head injury to Galway keeper James Skehill largely contributed to the time added on in that game.

Galway keeper James Skehill leaving the pitch during the All-Ireland final.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

In any case, all of these factors have combined to place a bigger emphasis on impact subs coming in with fresh legs to offset the fatigue in their teammates and eke out a result.

Shane Dowling

Limerick’s incredible journey to ending a 45-year wait for the Liam MacCarthy would not have been possible without the Na Piarsaigh club man.

Dowling was previously a regular face in the Limerick attack but a devastating knee injury in October of 2017 kept him out of action until the following year and halted his return to the starting team.

A suspension for Aaron Gillane earned Dowling a recall to the team against Waterford in the Munster championship, where he registered 0-15 (13f) and kept his place for the next round against Clare.

Shane Dowling rejoices after Limerick’s win in Croke Park.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He scored a point as a second-half substitute in their All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Kilkenny but it wasn’t until the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork that he truly came to life in the championship.

Dowling came off the bench in the 56th minute when Limerick’s challenge looked to be fading and scored an impressive 1-4, including an extra-time penalty to send Limerick back to an All-Ireland final for the first time in 11 years. 

His off-the-bench exploits proved critical once again in that final against the reigning champions Galway.

Dowling came on once again in the 56th minute and rattled the net to propel his side to an historic All-Ireland victory.

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Peter Casey.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Similar to Dowling, Peter Casey made a welcome return to the Limerick attack after a shoulder injury lay-off during the Munster round robin series. 

He chipped in with two points when he was introduced just before the hour-mark against Kilkenny to help push Limerick into an All-Ireland semi-final where he also came on as a sub.

In the All-Ireland final, he made another vital impact by providing the assist for Dowling’s goal against Galway after dispossessing Adrian Tuohey and engineering the counter-attack.

Cormac Costello

Much of what makes Jim Gavin such an accomplished manager is his ability to ensure he has a formidable bench to call upon at any given time. 

The panel approach has been a key characteristic of this four-in-a-row winning Dublin side, and different players have occupied the impact-player role at different times.

In 2018, Cormac Costello diligently carried out the duties of the impact sub and could feel rightly aggrieved to have not been handed a starting jersey in the crunch championship games. 

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

He started at wing-half forward in their final Super 8s game against Roscommon and top-scored for his side with 0-9 before he was withdrawn in the 47th minute. But that was a dead-rubber tie as Dublin had already booked their place in the All-Ireland semi-finals.

He made vital contributions off the bench elsewhere in the Super 8s series and also chipped in with three points in the All-Ireland semi-final victory over Galway.

 Aron Shanagher

Following his return from a cruciate ligament injury, Aron Shanagher made a powerful impact for the Clare hurlers in both of their semi-finals against Galway. After coming on as a late substitute in normal time, Shanagher rifled a shot into the roof of the net in extra-time as the sides played out a thrilling draw in Croke Park.

They reconvened in Semple Stadium the following weekend where Shanagher made his presence felt once again after coming off the bench with seven minutes of normal time left to play.

Aron Shanagher.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

He finished with a tally of one point but should have scored a goal as well. After his first shot was saved, Shanagher was quickest to pounce on the rebound with an open goal at his mercy.

His first-time flick however came back out off the post and Galway managed to squeeze through to the final.

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