Dublin have a rare old time as London bridge a great gap
Kildare defence shredded by Bernard Brogan and company in 16-point loss
London’s Sean Kelly and Danny Ryan celebrate after beating Leitrim in the Connacht SFC semi-final at Dr Hyde Park yesterday. Photograph: Mike Shaughnessy/Inpho
So much for the provincial draws having handy sides and hairy sides. Dublin were supposed to find Kildare the steepest hill on their way to the Leinster final but they ploughed through them yesterday with a 4-16 to 1-9 victory that could have been anything they pleased in the end.
And Leitrim were supposed to sleepwalk their way to the Connacht final but instead they found downtrodden, put-upon London an immovable object in Hyde Park. After a stunning first half display that sent the Exiles in at half-time a scarcely credible 2-10 to 0-2 ahead, London just about held on at the end for a 2-11 to 1-13 win. History made, by a single point.
Dublin had 16 of them to spare over Kildare in front of a crowd of 53,204 in Croke Park. But in all seriousness, the margin could easily have drifted well past 20 and even close to 30. It’s no exaggeration to say that Dublin had a dozen goal chances in the game, as the centre of the Kildare defence opened up time and again like cheap trousers.
Kieran McGeeney sent his side out playing 15-on-15 and paid heavily for it. Goals from Paul Mannion, Bernard Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly and Eoghan O’Gara burnt them to a crisp but the worst of it was that each goal was more or less a carbon copy of the one that went before.
Plenty of the goal
Each came from a run from deep by a Dublin player, each found a Kildare defender split between the man on the ball and the man he was marking, each left the shooter with plenty of the goal to aim at and plenty of time to do so. Yet at no stage did Kildare drop a sweeper back to protect the full-back line or cut off the space. It was a charge McGeeney fully expected to be levelled at him afterwards.
“I’ve heard over the last 12 months that I’m tactically naïve and perhaps I am,” he said. “But I would like to know what you do tactically to hold onto the ball, in terms of not fist-passing it away and kick-passing it away. Most games we play we create more scoring chances than your opponent, which you’re supposed to devise in your tactics. But that’s twice now against Dublin we’ve come up short. If it’s me that’ll soon be found out.
“You have to keep going. You can’t listen to other people who’ll try to put you down. You have to keep on believing. You have to keep working. Courage is a funny thing. People talk about it. But it doesn’t exist unless there’s fear. If you’re not afraid then you don’t need courage.
“At this moment in time in Kildare, there is angst. You need courage to stand up and be counted. They’re going to get torn apart in the next few days and so am I. I’m sure I’ve a lot of good friends out there who will give me a good going over in the next few days. That’s life, you just keep coming back.”
As for Dublin, the machine rolls on. Two games played, two 16-point victories bagged. They could even afford to give Kildare a five-point headstart here, overcoming an early Paddy Brophy goal to ease away.
“There were some nice passages of play and some well-constructed scores,” said Jim Gavin. “But we’re always looking for improvement and that’s not coming from me, it’s coming from the players. They’ll drive it on. We were looking for a result today and we got it.”
The result of the day was in the west, where London found their way to a Connacht final for the first time in their history. Or anyone else’s history, for that matter. They built up a huge lead in the first half, with goals from Cathal Magee and Ciarán McCallion and went in at the break 14 points up. Not alone that, but they went in with Leitrim in disarray having lost Darren Sweeney and Emlyn Mulligan to injury.
Leitrim very nearly hauled them in, however, tipping away with frees from Kevin Conlon, three points from play by Rob Lowe and a James Glancy goal that put the wind up the London players. But Paul Coggins’s side held on in a frantic finish.
“We managed it!” he said. “We’d great support from the all the London board. We had to arrange three different flights for all the players to get here. But our only focus all week was this game, on this pitch, and wanting to make that final. We really, really wanted to achieve that.
“I mean we went in at half time, and knew the game wasn’t over in any shape or form because there was a very strong wind. You try to keep players’ minds on that. They put in so much work in the first half, emptied the tank really, and maybe just found it more difficult to get into the game in the second half. To achieve a victory like that, to make a Connacht final, means everything really.”
Even after 129 years, the championship can still find novel ways to amaze.