Championship big beasts beginning to rumble ominously
Dublin and Tyrone retain their provincial titles with convincing victories on Sunday
James McCarthy scores Dublin’s second goal despite the efforts of Kildare’s David Hyland during the Leinster football final at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Bite by bite, the championship’s bigger beasts range into view, picking the also-rans from their teeth as they go.
Leinster and Ulster saw just under 100,000 bodies through the gates for their respective carnival days, all of them blissfully unwilling to be put off by the disparity between the haves and the have-a-goes.
In the end up, Dublin and Tyrone are provincial champions, just like last year. Everything else may as well be pennies tossed in a fountain.
At Croke Park, Kildare weren’t disgraced by any means. They lost by 2-23 to 1-17, making them the first Leinster team to get within 10 points of Dublin in four years. That 1-17 total is the second highest losing score in the history of Leinster finals, as well as being the biggest number any Leinster side has put up against Dublin under Jim Gavin. And still, you’d never really say they put a hitch in the Dubs’ giddy-up.
A couple of goals from Dean Rock and James McCarthy inside a minute early on put Dublin on an escalator and left Kildare trying to jump the stairs two at a time. Cian O’Neill’s side kept at it and got their reward with a late Paddy Brophy goal but we were long into talking-amongst-ourselves territory by then.
Dublin don’t want to hear your story. They’re grand, thanks. You keep doing what you’re doing, trying what you’re trying. They’ll keep on rolling, collecting medals like they’re made of magnets. They swept up their seventh Leinster title on the bounce here, their 12th in 13 seasons. Kildare are a coming side but this level of quality is above their station.
Con O’Callaghan had a break-out day at centre-forward, stitching 0-12 from 13 shots, including six points from play.
Meanwhile, Bernard Brogan came off the bench to swish five from play, like a noble old husband cough-coughing in the background while his wife swoons over a young popstar. They had no Diarmuid Connolly and lost Rock to a black card in the first half and still they were barely out of breath.
“They’re phenomenal,” said Cian O’Neill afterwards.
“They really are. Listen, they’ve a great manager. The way he conducts his business. Obviously a team that keeps on coming back year after year, that’s down to the quality of players they have, but it’s also down to the quality of their management team and their backroom team. When you see teams that have had that success and still have the hunger to come back year after year, it is quite phenomenal.
“That being said, Leinster hasn’t been at its best either. It’s up to us to try and push them. You’d obviously hope we’re not poking a bear, that the better other teams come the better they become. But it’s up to the other teams in Leinster to really challenge them that bit more.”
In Clones, Tyrone had the best of a picture-perfect Ulster final day, even if it fizzled out in the end like so many encounters up north tend to do these days.
What was once by far the most keenly-contested of the provinces has tilted entirely in Tyrone’s direction over the past two summers and here they had a 2-17 to 0-15 victory over Down to put in the books.
The last team to put up that sort of score in an Ulster final was Donegal in 2012 and we all know where they ended up. Two goals from Ronan O’Neill in the closing 10 minutes did the necessary, the second of them an outrageous lob on the run that was Tyrone to the bone. They’re coming, make no mistake.
“Last year really hurt standing in Croke Park knowing that we did not bring to that game what we had in the locker,” said Seán Cavanagh afterwards.
“That will have made us a stronger side but only time will tell if we’ve learned from it.
“I’ve seen the competition that’s there in the squad and it’s ridiculous. I see guys who would grace most county teams who are not even making the 26. You know when that’s happening that there is something good happening. There’s a real feel-good factor and that is what was always there any year we did well.
“It feels like we’re almost there. You’re never sure until you’re put to the pin of your collar. The one worry is that has not happened yet but we know it’s coming.”
All of it washes out with 12 teams left standing and 11 games left to decide who’s the best of them. The last qualifier draw of the year will be made on Monday morning, with Monaghan and Armagh in one bowl and Down and Kildare in the other.
The summer has hit the back nine and the main players all have their swings in fine working order. Can’t ask for much more than that.