Dublin 0-20 Kildare 1-9
The great faltering resumed at Croke Park on Sunday. It wasn’t that Dublin’s 60th Leinster title was ever in doubt or that Kildare threatened even the frissons caused by Meath in the semi-final but the champions were again below their best for periods and key players were out of sorts.
Dessie Farrell was nonetheless pleased to nail down an 11th successive provincial success for the county but knows that there will have to be a paradigm shift before the champions take on Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final in two weeks.
The winning margin was only one short of what separated the counties when they last met in the Leinster final in 2017 but as an index of their domination, the three matches to date have all been won by single-digits whereas none of last year’s were.
Brian Fenton’s difficult year continued, as he struggled to hit his stride, getting turned over just before the break and shooting an aimless wide in the second half that appeared to inhibit his shooting afterwards.
Seven years down the road of an exceptional intercounty career that has earned him comparisons with great centrefielders, he looks to have hit a bit of a speed bump.
Less expected was Con O'Callaghan's quiet afternoon. Yes, he worked as hard as ever but the gaps weren't opening up and he never managed to surge into space. Kudos though to Moorefield's Mark Dempsey, who curtailed him well.
There were encouraging signs for Dublin though. Their defence was nearly restored to its All-Ireland winning configuration with both injured All Stars John Small and Eoin Murchan returning to action - the former starting and the latter replacing him in the second half on an open-ended blood substitution.
Murchan’s was a welcome return. He brings pace and a cool head and was in the thick of the second-half action, linking up moves during the bouts of possession play and always threatening to cut through.
By and large the defence held up well, marshalling the Kildare danger men without sustaining too much damage although an uncharacteristic lapse by the otherwise commanding James McCarthy in the 62nd minute saw him dispossessed by Daniel Flynn, who powered past Jonny Cooper, the captain who otherwise had a decent afternoon as sweeper, to fire home a goal and cut the deficit to five, 1-8 to 0-16.
They weren't able to trigger a run on Dublin, though and in the 10 minutes that followed, Cormac Costello, twice, and Ciarán Kilkenny brought back the original lead.
That in a nutshell was Kildare’s problem. Although they worked hard to create opportunities for Jimmy Hyland and Flynn, the defence coped reasonably well. Jack O’Connor would have been unhappy though with some of the first-half shooting.
Hyland did well from both play and frees but Flynn dropped one short - or at least Evan Comerford got up to a good stretch to pull it down - and Ben McCormack squandered a few chances between wides and dropping kicks short. They never managed to string two unanswered scores together.
To be fair, Kildare were hindered from the start by the absence of three seasoned high performers, Kevin Feely, Paul Cribbin and Eoin Doyle and the younger players will have benefited from this experience as they face into a season back in Division One of the league.
Dublin’s initial response was a bit lack-lustre. Old instincts flourished and possession was held and spread from wing to wing but the purpose of all this keep-ball, to open up gaps or in rugby parlance ‘soft shoulders’ and exploit that with scores wasn’t always fulfilled.
Kildare scrapped admirably, getting in blocks and dispossessing ball carriers but Dublin were essentially no more clinical than they had been in the past two matches and in fact, less so than in the first half against Meath. Their accuracy wasn’t bad but in the creation of chances from possession they weren’t super-efficient.
Ciarán Kilkenny had a frustrating first half, getting whistled for over-carrying and finding Shea Ryan a dogged marker but he rebounded well in the second half, becoming prominent in the building of attacks and shooting a couple of points including one outstanding mark.
Cormac Costello also had a good match, finishing with four points and industriously working the whole afternoon - at one stage, tracking back so far that he dispossessed Daniel Flynn in full cry in the 18th minute.
Niall Scully's speed and movement were also reassuring. He ended up with a couple of points and the bench nearly yielded an injury-time goal for Colm Basquel but it was disallowed for over-carrying.
Dublin’s progressively tightening grip on the match was seen in the ever-expanding lead from first quarter to full-time whistle. Comerford’s restarts were again reliable, losing only one of his kick-outs.
The All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo - the counties’ eighth meeting in seven years, including replays - takes place on Saturday August 14th at 6.0.
Farrell will realise that he has work to do but it is a relief to be heading into the business end of the championship, having avoided mishap and with plenty of room for improvement.
DUBLIN: 1. E Comerford; 2. M Fitzsimons, 3. D Byrne, 7. S McMahon; 26. J Small, 4. J Cooper (capt), 6. B Howard (0-1); 8. B Fenton, 5. J McCarthy (0-1); 10. P Small (0-1), 11. C Kilkenny (0-4, one mark), 12. N Scully (0-2, one mark); 13. C Costello (0-4), 14. C O'Callaghan (0-1), 15. D Rock (0-5, 0-3 frees). Subs: 22. E Murchan for J Small (blood injury 41 mins to end), 17. C Basquel for Rock (54 mins), 19. S Bugler for P Small (61 mins), 20. T Lahiff for Cooper (69 mins), 18. R Basquel (0-1) for O'Callaghan (71 mins), 24. E Ó Conghaile for Kilkenny (73 mins).
KILDARE: 1. M Donnellan; 3. M O'Grady, 2. M Dempsey, 18. D Maloney; 7. K Flynn, 17. S Ryan, 5. R Houlihan; 8. L Flynn, 9. A Masterson; 6. D Hyland (capt.), 11. F Conway, 12. N Flynn; 13. B McCormack, 14. D Flynn, 15 J Hyland. Subs: 10. A Beirne (0-1) for Conway (45 mins), 20. N Kelly for Houlihan (45 mins), 22. D Kirwan for Hyland (59 mins), 19. B McLaughlin for N Flynn (62 mins), 21. S O'Sullivan for McCormack (65 mins).
Referee: M McNally (Monaghan)