Dublin breeze to victory, but leave a few straws to clutch onto

Leinster final: Dubs may have swept Kildare away, but where was the tidal wave of old?

The Dublin team celebrate with the Delaney Cup after beating Kildare in the Leinster GAA Senior Football Championship at  Croke Park on Sunday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

The Dublin team celebrate with the Delaney Cup after beating Kildare in the Leinster GAA Senior Football Championship at Croke Park on Sunday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Three games to go and the All-Ireland series has taken its shape for 2021. Dublin will play Mayo and Kerry will play Tyrone, making it the fifth time in nine years that those four counties have been the cream that rose to the top. In each of the other four, Dublin were the ones to see it out.

On the question of whether they will do so again at the end of the month, this Leinster final will hardly be held up as evidence one way or the other. They dealt with Kildare without extending themselves, coming away 0-20 to 1-9 winners in a game that was more a washout than a blowout. They weren’t impressive but neither were they in peril at any stage.

Dublin were never in trouble, they were never not going to be Leinster champions again. Say what you like about Dessie Farrell’s side coming back to the pack – even in their worst-case scenario they’re only back as far as the very front of said pack. And that’s still a furlong or two clear of where Kildare are.

“Still a fair gap,” agreed Jack O’Connor. “Eight points is still a fair gap now. You’d like to think that Dublin can’t go on forever and maybe in the next couple of years that Kildare will continue to close that gap because Kildare is a big county, 220-odd thousand people. We need to be competing at the top table.

“We need to be playing big games here and that’s the message I got two years ago, to freshen the panel, make Kildare competitive again. And we can only do that by getting back to Division One playing games against top-class opposition, knowing where the level and the standard is and let’s see where that goes after this.”

Pin of their collar

So no, Dublin weren’t put to the pin of their collar or anything here. They carried a 0-5 to 0-4 lead into the first water break, extended it to 0-9 to 0-5 by half-time and pushed it out to 0-15 to 0-8 at the end of the third quarter. A superb Daniel Flynn goal on 62 minutes threatened to spice things up down the stretch but Dublin replied with the next three points in a row. Nobody left Croke Park thinking the Leinster Championship is suddenly a thing again.

Dublin will go into a semi-final against Mayo, a county to whom they have lost precisely none of their last 17 games in league and championship

But if you’re looking for straws in the wider wind, it’s undeniable that there are a few here and there. This was the closest Leinster Championship match since 2013. It was the first time Dublin have been out-goaled in a Leinster final since 2001. For the second game in a row, the Dublin bench put up a lower scoring total than the subs brought in by the opposition.

These are small things, infinitesimal matters that may mean absolutely nothing when all comes to all. Dublin will go into a semi-final against Mayo, a county to whom they have lost precisely none of their last 17 games in league and championship. They go into it having got John Small and Eoin Murchan back on the pitch here in a game where all six of their starting forwards scored from play. They are not in bad shape.

Tidal wave

And yet, and yet. To the outside world, they just don’t look like the tidal wave of old. Kildare didn’t push up on their kick-out here, save for the one time Flynn threw himself into a tackle on James McCarthy and gathered possession to pinball through and bury his shot across Evan Comerford. They look susceptible to a bit of bravery, a bit of dash. Maybe it’s nothing. But Dessie Farrell knows better than anyone that it’s out there.

“To be honest, we don’t focus really on what the narrative is out there. That will be for others. All we can do is, to use the cliche, control the controllables. And that’s how we focus on preparing and practice, and all the stuff that’s in our gift, if you like. That’s what we’ll do, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

“We just get on with the business at hand. It’s about preparation and getting ourselves right. We’ll review what’s gone on there today. There’ll be plenty to work on. We’ll discuss that and try to bring some of it to the practice ground maybe, and set ourselves up in the best possible way for the next one.”

Teatime on Saturday week, then. Would you be anywhere else?

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