Best display yet under Farrell sees Dublin crush Meath to claim 10th Leinster title
Dubs’ energetic, constantly probing attack quickly deflated optimistic opponents
Dublin’s Ciaran Kilkenny comes under pressure from Meath’s Matthew Costello during Dublin’s Leinster final victory at Croke Park. Ryan Byrne/Inpho
On a night of poignant reflection, business remained business for champions Dublin, who gave their best display to date of Dessie Farrell’s management with a juggernaut crushing of Meath’s youthful hopes in Saturday’s Leinster final in Croke Park.
From the first minute when their combative defence suffocated an attack that promised a goal but ended up lucky to settle for a Bryan Menton point, Dublin were tuned into a different frequency than the challengers and racked up a 10th successive provincial title.
It was a shock for Meath whose steady improvement since last year’s equivalent fixture had given rise to cautious optimism that they could acquit themselves well enough to make a contest of it.
Excellent defence a year ago had been undermined by poor decision-making in attack and with 12 goals in two matches and some good scores in Division One – including a feisty outing against the Dubs in Parnell Park a month ago – they looked to be in better shape.
Unfortunately, the defence deteriorated in the face of Dublin’s energetic, constantly probing attack. Ciarán Kilkenny showed again his quality as a finisher on the inside line while Con O’Callaghan switched out to the 40 and showed the variety in his game by providing a target for Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs and orchestrating well.
Dean Rock’s goal in the eighth minute had an ominous feel about it, putting the first bit of distance between the teams, 1-2 to 0-2, and on it went from there. Meath’s early kick-outs were hacked, as Dublin turned the screw and even though goalkeeper Mark Brennan would find his range, there was no way back.
Again all of Dublin’s starting forwards scored from play in the first half – Seán Bugler was the last to get the mark when he charged down the middle of the defence, played a one-two with wing back Robbie McDaid, who had an adventurous final, and palmed to the net for 2-8 to 0-2.
The micro details of Dublin’s 21-point win, nudging ahead of the 1955 Leinster final between the counties when Kevin Heffernan in his pomp at full forward drove a 20-point destruction of Meath, can be waived but a couple of issues emerged.
Jonny Cooper had to go off with another foot injury. “It’s a worry any time anyone pulls up because the games are coming thick and fast,” said Farrell afterwards.
Cormac Costello was red-carded, apparently for verbal abuse of a linesman. The player had scored 0-7 off the bench against Laois and on Saturday forced a black-card foul out of Ronan Jones. Implications of suspension with an All-Ireland semi-final just a fortnight away are serious and he approached referee Derek O’Mahoney afterwards, looking shaken.
Farrell again introduced current All Stars Brian Howard and Paul Mannion as replacements and the latter curled over a spectacular free in the 58th minute.
Meath kept trying and one of the young guns, Jordan Morris, ended with 0-4, half from play but the bench also added some impact. Joey Wallace’s pace caused a couple of problems and he kicked a mark as well as forcing the ever-alert Cluxton into a good save. Jason Scully also looked lively when he came on but there was nothing left of the contest.
To rub it in, Niall Scully swooped in injury time to touch in the rebound after Brennan had saved Kevin McManaman’s shot after a typically barnstorming run.
Farrell said that he had been surprised it had been so easy.
“Meath had put together some very good performances and we got a sample of it a few weeks ago in Parnell Park. They probably accounted themselves unlucky not to get more out of it that night. We were ready for a big challenge and knew we’d have to step it up for a Leinster final.”
He accepted it had been the team’s best performance under him although quibbling that the last quarter had been “sloppy and against sterner opposition you’d be looking at that”.
His Meath counterpart Andy McEntee eventually came forward and was suitably crestfallen. “We didn’t perform and got badly punished,” he said. “We never got into it and as I say, we got punished any time we made an error. We just weren’t up to the pitch of the game.
“We said if we put in another first-half performance like we did last week, we’ll be punished and the game out of sight. Ultimately that’s what happened.”
Dublin rounded off the evening with Cluxton laying a wreath at the Bloody Sunday memorial.
“Obviously it’s a huge occasion for the GAA,” said Farrell. In some ways, what happened here 100 years ago today is very much part and parcel of our identity as an organisation. We touched on it during the week – the importance of the night and the commemoration.
“We just felt in our own small way that it was important to recognise the people who perished on that night and were struck down in very sad circumstances and to just take the opportunity to be grateful for all we have and the opportunity that we’ve been provided by all those who have gone before us, our forefathers and people like who were killed here 100 years ago.”
DUBLIN: 1. Stephen Cluxton (capt); 2. Michael Fitzsimons, 3. Jonny Cooper, 19. David Byrne; 4. Eoin Murchan, 7. Robert McDaid, 6. John Small (0-1); 8.Brian Fenton, 5. James McCarthy; 10. Niall Scully (1-1), 14. Con O’Callaghan (0-2), 12. Seán Bugler (1-2); 13. Paddy Small (0-3, two marks), 11. Ciarán Kilkenny (0-4), 15. Dean Rock (1-7, five frees, one 45).
Subs: 21. Brian Howard for Cooper (half-time), 23. Paul Mannion (0-1, free) for P Small (42 mins), 22. Eric Lowndes for J Small (54 mins), 20. Cormac Costello for O’Callaghan (59 mins), 25. Kevin McManamon for Kilkenny (65 mins).
MEATH: 1.Mark Brennan; 12. Ronan Ryan, 3. Conor McGill, 2. Séamus Lavin; 4. David Toner, 5. Donal Keogan (jt capt), 7. Matthew Costello; 8. Bryan Menton (jt capt; 0-1), 9. Ronan Jones; 10. Cillian O’Sullivan (0-1), 11. Bryan McMahon, 6. Shane McEntee; 13. Jordan Morris (0-4, two frees), 14. Shane Walsh, 15. Thomas O’Reilly (0-1, free).
Subs: 19. Eoin Harkin for Toner (43 mins), 18. Cathal Hickey for McGill (43 mins), 21. Ethan Devine for Costello (48 mins), 21. Jason Scully (0-1) for McMahon (52 mins), 22. Joey Wallace (0-1, mark) for O’Reilly (54 mins).
Referee: Derek O’Mahony (Tipperary).