Seventh heaven for Dublin as another record falls to Gavin’s men
Early goals from Rock and McCarthy ensure Kildare always fighting an uphill battle
Dublin’s Brian Fenton battles with Tommy Moolick of Kildare during yesterday’s Leinster senior football final at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy dickson/Inpho
DUBLIN 2-23 KILDARE 1-17
It would be unfair to write off Dublin 56th Leinster football title, as Groundhog Day because when a team has averaged the scale of beatings that has been Kildare’s recent lot, a single-digit defeat is if not quite a memorable achievement, at least something to build on.
Jim Gavin’s team have now set a record in the province with a seventh successive title whereas captain, Stephen Cluxton, has equalled the mark for the greatest number of championship appearances, moving on to 88 to join the Ó Sé brothers, Tomás and Marc.
The win also showcased the latest Dublin uber-talent, Con O’Callaghan, who stepped up for the free-taking duties after Dean Rock had been black-carded and his marksmanship was so flawless that only one under-hit shot spoiled an otherwise impeccable display, bringing in 0-12, half a dozen of them from play.
For a day of such historical moment, in front of a large attendance of 66,734, it was still all a bit low-key. Dublin took the flame-thrower to the match in the first quarter and although Kildare eventually found their feet, their rally never threatened to t urn into a recovery.
It was curious because the challengers started with real intent. Within 20 seconds Daniel Flynn had been set up by David Slattery for the opening point and Kildare continued to press forward in the opening minutes but failure to turn the possession and platform into points meant that Dublin’s first visit to the attacking zone yielded an equalising point for Paul Mannion.
What turned the occasion into a study in predictability was the brace of goals grabbed by the champions in roughly 60 seconds between the 10th and 11th minutes. They both highlighted a problem Kildare allowed to develop – allowing space behind their defensive cover.
First Dean Rock and then James McCarthy were slipped into those spaces by Ciarán Kilkenny and Con O’Callaghan respectively, and both finished with the sort of clinical finality that eluded their opponents in similar situations. Niall Scully made a similar run shortly afterwards but wasn’t picked out.
The revelation afterwards that captain, Eoin Doyle had been playing with a broken thumb shed some light on the situation as he is usually an effective patroller of this area and a snuffer-outer of space-related opportunity.
Dublin extended the lead to nine in the 18th minute with a score straight out of the catalogue of Kildare manager Cian O’Neill’s worst forebodings: a thunderous shoulder by Cian O’Sullivan turned over the ball in defence and allowed Jack McCaffrey to streak up the field, lay off to O’Callaghan for 2-4 to 0-1.
What happened next provided some comfort for Kildare and presumably some vexation amongst the Dublin management group. The winners took their collective foot off the pedal and began to kick indulgent wides.
Gavin’s team approach to attack is frequently to maintain possession patiently until the opening appears. In the second quarter yesterday there was too little quality control about the shot selection and execution.
It enabled Kildare to settle and O’Neill was pleased afterwards with the statistic that his team, after the horror of the opening quarter, had calmed down sufficiently to outscore their opponents by 0-9 to 0-4 and cut the half-time deficit to a manageable four, 0-10 to 2-8.
Among the other bonuses to come their way was the black-carding of Rock in the 24th minute for pulling down Mick O’Grady. If this kindled hope in Kildare breasts it was to be unfulfilled. O’Callaghan was flawless with the frees and replacement Bernard Brogan bounded onto the field, fired with the indignation of a man who looked as though he feels he should be starting. Five points was the tariff and the former Footballer of the Year was sharp throughout.
If the early goals put Kildare firmly on the back foot, the third quarter ensured that they stayed there.
Dublin went on a hot streak, outscoring them 0-8 to 0-1 to consign their opponents to the futility of going through the motions. The winners, sufficiently challenged by the closeness of the half-time score, refocused and passed the second half with just one wide and one shot dropped short.
One glorious opportunity to reinvigorate the contest came and went with Danile Flynn’s clever run and one-on-one opportunity for goal but he placed the shot too close to Cluxton, who saved smartly.
If there are lessons for Dublin they will focus on centrefield where Kildare’s Kevin Feely was again the best performer on show. Suggestions that his 63rd-minute black card yesterday was his third this year could see him suspended for the qualifier round in a fortnight.
Gavin wasn’t too concerned by the concession of 1-17, the county’s highest in Leinster during his tenure, because the nature of the match was end-to-end with an emphasis on scoring rather than defending. He could also have added that of the All Stars in his full-back line, Jonny Cooper was missing and Philip McMahon only just back.
This had the significance of reducing the margin to single figures and even though Mannion drove the ball to the net at the very end, referee Anthony Nolan had already signalled a free.
DUBLIN: 1. Stephen Cluxton (capt.); 22. Philip McMahon, 6. Cian O’Sullivan, 2. Michael Fitzsimons; 4. Eric Lowndes, 26. John Small, 7. Jack McCaffrey; 8. Brian Fenton, 5. James McCarthy (1-0); 12. Con O’Callaghan (0-12, six frees), 9. Ciarán Kilkenny (0-2), 10. Niall Scully; 11. Paul Mannion (0-1), 13. Paddy Andrews (0-1),15. Dean Rock (1-0).
Subs: 18. Bernard Brogan (0-5) for Rock (25 mins, black card), 2. Darren Daly for McMahon (44 mins), 20. Shane Carthy (0-1) for Scully (48 mins), 23. Kevin McManamon for Andrews (52 mins), 19. David Byrne for O’Sullivan (58 mins), 21. Brian Howard (0-1) for Fenton (67 mins).
KILDARE: 1. Mark Donnellan; 2. Mick O’Grady, 3. David Hyland, 4. Ollie Lyons; 5. Johnny Byrne (0-1), 6. Eoin Doyle, 7. Keith Cribbin (0-1); 8. Kevin Feely (0-5, four frees), 9. Tommy Moolick; 12. David Slattery (0-1), 11. Niall Kelly (0-1),10. Fergal Conway; 15. Cathal McNally (0-2), 14. Daniel Flynn (0-2), 13. Paddy Brophy (1-3, one free).
Subs: 25. Paul Cribbin for Conway (44 mins), 17. Fionn Dowling (0-1) for Moolick (49 mins), 18. Peter Kelly for Doyle (52 mins), 26. Ben McCormack for McNally (57 mins), 21. Emmet Bolton for Byrne (64 mins), 19. Eamonn Callaghan for Feely (65 mins, black card),
Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).