Leinster SFC final: Meath’s game challenge snuffed out by Dublin’s dynamic young guns
Kilkenny and Mannion lead the way as Gavin uses squad to full
Dublin’s Paul Mannion celebrates with the Delaney Cup. Photograph: Inpho/Morgan Treacy
Dublin 2-15 Meath 0-14
At the end, Jim Gavin hooshed his players up the steps of the Hogan Stand in the manner of a teacher gathering pupils back into class after lunch on a sunny day. They’d been standing in a cluster down on the pitch looking up as Stephen Cluxton waited on the trophy to be handed over for Dublin’s 52nd Leinster title.
Gavin was having none of it. “Yeah, they were just standing there, tired in the heat, I’d say,” he said. “I told them to go up and be together as a team that had won a title. They have to enjoy something like this. Enjoy being a team and winning as a team. They’re not robots.”
Eight titles in nine years
Tell that to the rest of the province. It says much about the low bar of expectation in Leinster these days that a seven-point beating sends people home feeling Meath gave Dublin plenty of it. This, after all, makes it eight titles in nine years and only two of those finals finished with more between Dublin and their victims.
If we’re talking about this being a step forward, then we’re into wish-as-father-of-thought territory. True, Meath hung tight for long periods. They led at half-time, stood level on 45 minutes, and were still within a kick of a ball with a quarter of an hour to go.
Their direct running at the Dublin full-back line created five goal chances, at least two of which were a notch above mere sighters. They cleaned out Dublin’s starting midfield and shut down some big names in their attack – Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O’Gara and Diarmuid Connolly all departed before the end with just a single point from play between them. Against most teams, that amount of endeavour and skill would add up to a close finish.
That Dublin aren’t most teams is becoming more and more apparent by the game. At no stage did a defeat for Gavin’s side look a possibility. At no stage could Meath find an answer to the ceaseless probing of Ciarán Kilkenny or the jet-heeled brilliance of Paul Mannion.
Once Gavin sent Denis Bastick in to play traffic cop around centrefield, the direction of the play changed for good. He arrived with Dublin a point up; they outscored Meath by 1-5 to 0-2 for the rest of the game. Bastick’s effect on the game was a trumpet blast for the depth of Dublin’s resources.
Strength in depth
No name is etched in stone. Ger Brennan was left for dead in the wake of a Stephen Bray run midway through the second half and immediately got the curly finger, replaced by Darren Daly. Bernard Brogan lasted an hour with only a free to show for it – Dean Rock came on and nailed his usual two points. When people talk about the weight of Dublin’s numbers, this is it made flesh.
Still, those numbers were needed here. Meath screamed from the gate, Bray stitching two smart points in the opening minutes that hinted at more to come. But whereas Bray would slowly fade from view, the keynote speakers in Dublin’s reply only grew in voice as the game went on.
First Mannion left Mickey Burke choking in his dust to snipe his first point of the day and then Paul Flynn knifed their opening goal. Mannion was involved again, this time taking a delicious pass from Kilkenny who even at that early stage was thinking half a beat faster than everyone else.
Flynn lurked, Mannion flicked. Goal. Dublin 1-1 Meath 0-2. The heartbreak of it all for Meath was the chances they missed as the game settled.
Flynn’s goal came on five minutes and there wasn’t another score from either side until Connolly kicked a point in the 16th – but in between, Meath missed chances worth 1-6.
Damien Carroll was in on goal but dragged wide and Mickey Newman fluffed a couple of handy frees. It meant that although Meath gradually found their feet, their half-time lead could have been far beefier than just the two points.
Newman didn’t miss another free all day and Eamonn Wallace got involved with a couple of fine points from play.
With Brian Meade and Conor Gillespie in charge at midfield Meath pushed on to lead at the break by 0-9 to 1-4.
Kilkenny was outstanding at the beginning of the second half, however, and his three points in seven minutes turned the scoreboard Dublin’s way.
Bastick’s introduction changed the tenor of the midfield battle and a couple of Cluxton efforts nudged them into the middle distance, 1-13 to 0-13, with 10 minutes left.
It was Mannion who put them out of sight, stroking home the rebound after Paddy O’Rourke parried a Kevin O’Brien shot and killing whatever fight Meath had left in them. Leinster won at a canter then.
But Dublin know well that none of the other serious runners will be of a mind to give up the chase.