Dublin 2-25 Wexford 1-12
The city team's brilliance now casts a shadow across all of Leinster. The All-Ireland champions posted the kind of score more regularly associated with a high-summer hurling game in Croke Park without ever giving the impression that they hit full throttle.
It is hard to imagine what more Aidan O’Brien could have done to prepare Wexford for this test. The visitors played smartly for the first 35 minutes, never allowed their heads to drop, kicked several terrific points, bagged a goal in front of Hill 16 and were in contention at half-time, at least on the score board. By the end, none of that made a difference.
As usual, the Dublin bench flooded the field and the scoring statistics in the second half, with Cormac Costello firing 1-5 – including three frees – during a scintillating half to complement the show he put on against Laois. The Whitehall kid has made a seemingly foolproof argument for a starting place but the fluidity with which Jim Gavin shuffles cards now means that a place on the bench could be construed as preferable as Dublin tend to crank up after the break.
Again, so much of Dublin's positive energy flowed through Michael Dara Macauley.
Even if the Ballyboden man didn’t thunder into attack with his usual frequency, he set his team-mates in motion again and again and got the crucial flick for Costelloe’s 46th minute goal, the score which officially changed the match from contest to score-keeping.
Slow-burning in the first half, Dublin had a menacing look after Costello’s two quick points. In addition to harassing and plain outjumping Wexford on their kick-outs, they also began to benefit from Stephen Cluxton’s seemingly inexhaustible arsenal of kick-outs.
The forwards began to buzz. Tomás Brady snapped two quick points when Wexford’s heroic full back line was stretched and
embellished the scoreboard with a spectacular 70th minute goal. The Hill cheered in a blasé, bigger-days-ahead kind of way. The Dubs were out of sight.
What can Wexford take from this? When O’Brien gathered his players underneath the Hogan stand at half-time, they must have told themselves that they had a chance.
They boxed clever for 35 minutes, paying due diligence to Dublin's reputation for good kick-outs and plundering three in the first half. Graeme Molloy was at the heart of a terrifically disciplined full-back line. Yes, the Dubs set out in manic fashion, with Paul Mannion drawing a stout save from Shane Roche in the first minute.
Aidan Flynn dived to make a brilliant block on Mannion's next goal attempt.
The All-Ireland champions wanted a big early punch but Wexford defended on their feet and forced the home team to shoot points. The Hill folk watched as seven inaccurate attempts drifted their way. At the other end, Wexford's forwards blazed a few bad wides but kept in touch through terrific strikes from Ben Brosnan and Banville. The Horeswood man finished the move of the half.
After Nicky Devereux sauntered up to kick a point in the 29th minute, Dublin's front guard pressed hard for the first time. But Wexford responded well, with Brian Malone and Michael Furlong thinking their way through the blizzard of blue, the latter winning a free which Brosnan converted.
With their next attack, they again passed through the sky-blue wall, with Kevin O’Grady and Lyng creating a passage for Banville’s point.
But there was a distracted atmosphere about the great stadium all afternoon and although the All-Ireland champions weren’t clicking, they have developed the useful habit of slipping into leads unnoticed.
A four-point deficit was theoretically manageable for Wexford but ten minutes after the restart the visitors trailed by 0-14 to 0-08 and any tension just ebbed away. Macauley took understandable objection to the attentions of Ciarán Lyng in the 67th minute and a bout of jostling engaged the Hill but the series of yellow cards issued seemed out of place given the openness of the game.
Dublin’s internal competition for playing minutes continues to fascinate. Kevin McManamon enjoyed the novelty of starting and finishing a championship game and even if he didn’t score, he was involved in plenty of bright scores. Still, given that Dublin are all about scoring and scoring big, registering nothing may concern the St Jude’s man.
Daithí Waters was rewarded for a hugely honest afternoon at midfield with a well-taken goal on 52 minutes, neatly stepping inside after a pass from Tiarnan Rossitor and angling a well-placed shot past Cluxton.
But they didn’t worry the Dublin defence enough and their best goal chance of the first half was snuffed out when a perfectly placed Philly McMahon blocked down Kevin O’Grady’s shot on the run.
Did the visitors really believe they could win here? They had several splendid individual performances, not least from captain Graeme Molloy. But never once did the day threaten to flip into the twilight zone of a Dublin defeat. The bigger question is whether any county team can bring the kind of defiance and athleticism and skill to mount a meaningful raid on the citadel. DUBLIN: 1 S Cluxton (0-1, 50); 2 P McMahon (0-1), 3 R O'Carroll, 4 J Cooper; 5 J McCarthy, 6 N Devereux (0-1), 7 K Nolan; 8 MD Macauley (0-1), 9 C O'Sullivan; 10 P Flynn (1-2), 14 D Rock (0-4 frees), 12 D Connolly (0-2 , one free); 13 A Brogan (0-1), 23 P Mannion (0-3), 15 K McManamon. Subs: C Costello (1-5, three frees) for Rock, half-time), E O'Gara (0-2) for A Brogan (47 mins), J McCaffrey for K Nolan (50 mins), T Brady (0-2) for C O'Sullivan (60 mins), M Fitzsimons for N Devereux (64 mins), B Cullen for MD McAuley (68 mins). WEXFORD: 1 S Roche, 2 R Tierney, 3 G Molloy, 4 C Carty, 5 M Furlong, 6 B Malone, 7 A Flynn; 8 D Waters (1-0), 9 P Byrne; 17 T Rossitor, 11 PJ Banvil e (0-2), 12 J Holmes (0-1); 13 C Lyng (0-1 free), 14 B Brosnan (0-7, four frees), 15 K O'Grady (0-1). Subs: C Kehoe for J Holmes (51 mins), M O'Regan for A Flynn (53 mins), E Nolan for P Byrne (57 mins), D Dunne for T Rossitor (61 mins), Colm Kehoe for K O'Grady (64 mins), G Cullen for PJ Banville (68 mins). Referee: C Branagan (Down).