Mannerly Meath no match for Dublin machine
Royal County enjoy lively first half but never threaten the champions in 10-point loss
Dublin’s Bernard Brogan catches a ball over the head of Meath’s Mickey Burke. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
It’s maybe symbolic of the state of expectation in the GAA Leinster football championship that a 10-point win in a semi-final can be described as moderately entertaining. Dublin did much as they wished - moving the ball in the final quarter through what in rugby coverage might be called ‘phases’ - but Meath competed.
For a while.
The first half was well contested and by half-time there were only three points in it, 0-11 to 0-8 but after the break Meath fell away. They managed just three points whereas the champions banged over 10, to win by the same margin.
The margin between the counties had been increasing exponentially over the past three championship meetings and so Meath might feel positive about reversing the trend - they lost the last meeting two years ago by 16 - but this was another of those matches involving Dublin in Leinster in which the outcome was settled long before the end.
It had already been an historical afternoon, as a scattering of spectators filtered in before the start of the first semi-final to watch big-screen relays of Ireland’s Euro 16 adventure coming to an end. For this match, though, the plucky greens didn’t in the end get that close to les bleus.
The knock-on effect however of the international excitement was felt in the poorest attendance - 42,259 - at a Dublin-Meath championship match for 33 years. Or maybe the competing attractions are just an alibi for a provincial championship that has been withering on the competitive vine for the past decade.
Dublin made the obligatory couple of changes before the throw-in: Denis Bastick replacing Michael Darragh Macauley and Paul Flynn coming in for Paul Mannion. For Meath the afternoon had started unpromisingly, as substitute Brian Power was driven off on the motorised stretcher after injuring his ankle in the warm-up.
Meath were none the less impressive in the early exchanges, starting well and staying in touch on the scoreboard. They were notably more economical with their chances, shooting only two wides compared to their opponents’ six before half-time - although five of those came in the first 10 minutes.
They posed a threat with the pace of the half-forward line. Graham Reilly and Eamon Wallace made a number of incisions, amassing three points between them with centre forward Cillian O’Sullivan adding another from play. That underlined that the champions are missing Footballer of the Year Jack McCaffrey and his sprinter’s speed at wing back.
James McCarthy took over on Reilly with John Small moving across onto Wallace and the threat subsided.
Dublin were also troubled occasionally by the high ball into the full forwards - further acknowledgement that life after Rory O’Carroll, the other defensive exile, might still be problematic.
Meath also defended well, their captain Donal Keogan dispossessing Bernard Brogan on a couple of occasions and even though the Dublin marksman hit three from play he still ended up being replaced for the second match running.
Scores came thick and fast in the first half - Meath’s half forwards’ total supplemented by some nice free taking off the ground by Michael Newman but Dublin got their scores more easily; in a lower gear.
Three came in two minutes around the 20th, a free from Dean Rock - one of many for the Ballymun shooter who after an early shot dropped short was flawless off the tee for nine points, to go with his one from play - and points from Flynn and Brogan.
Meath defended deeply, conceding short kick-outs to Dublin and funnelling back but the winners showed great patience, building movements from win to wing until the gap offered itself.
After the break the champions pulled away, inexorably and remorselessly. Meath contributed to their second-half slowdown by missing scoring opportunities - Newman particularly anguished with a shot from play that went wide and Cillian O’Sullivan, who otherwise played well, missing a free from just to the right of the posts - but Dublin, despite constant slipping and sliding on the wet surface, raised the tempo and created chances, which were converted or drew frees, which Rock converted.
Dublin also improved at centrefield in the second half when original selection Michael Darragh Macauley came in for Denis Bastick. The former Footballer of the year added some punch up in his aggressive running and his fielding along with Brian Fenton’s gave their team control in the sector.
Meath can console themselves that they kept a clean sheet - the first time Dublin have failed to score a goal since the counties met in 2010 17 matches ago - but their inability to make real inroads up front saw five starting forwards replaced.
Dublin move on to a repeat of last year’s provincial final against Westmeath and for all the quibbles, they look to have a few gears left.
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; Philly McMahon, Jonny Cooper, David Byrne; James McCarthy, Cian O’Sullivan, John Small; Brian Fenton (0-1), Denis Bastick; Paul Flynn (0-2), Kevin McManamon, Ciaran Kilkenny; Dean Rock (0-10, 0-9 frees), Diarmuid Connolly (0-4), Bernard Brogan (0-3). Subs: Denis Bastick for Macauley, half-time; Paul Mannion (0-1) for Brogan, 53 mins; Paddy Andrews for McManamon, 59 mins; Eric Lowndes for Small, 60 mins; Mick Fitzsimons for O’Sullivan, 63 mins; Con O’Callaghan for Flynn, 68 mins
Meath: Paddy O’Rourke; Donnacha Tobin, Donal Keogan, Mickey Burke’; Darragh Smyth, Padraic Harnan, Alan Douglas; Harry Rooney, Cian O’Brien; Graham Reilly (0-4), Cillian O’Sullivan (0-2, 0-1 free), Eamon Wallace; Dalton McDonagh, Andy Tormey, Mickey Newman (0-4, 0-3 frees). Subs: Ronan JOnes (0-1) for Tormey, 53 mins; Seamus Lavin for Wallace, 55 mins; Sean Tobin for McDonagh, 60 mins; Joey Wallace for Reilly, 64 mins; Cathal Flynn for Douglas, 67 mins; Bryan McMahon for O’Sullivan, 67 mins
Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare)