WHEN both counties line up at full strength, Dublin are in a different class to Louth, so it was hardly surprising that the same applied with experimental lineups in Drogheda. If anything, the gulf was even more pronounced than if both fielded their strongest forces, with Dublin completely overwhelming a Louth team that must have found the experience rather bewildering.-
They were beaten by the 10minute mark, at which stage Dublin led by 2-2 to 0-1 after Bernard Brogan had pounced for two opportunistic goals in 90 seconds. His crisp finishing for both were classy examples of his poaching instincts, but the task was made ridiculously easy by the chaotic nature of the Louth defence. Not that the backs must shoulder all the blame as they were left horribly exposed by the failure of colleagues further afield to close down the Dublin play-makers as they began the well-constructed build-ups. Dublin half-backs Chris Guckian, Ger Brennan and Jack McCaffrey, plus midfielders Denis Bastick and Declan O'Mahony, were allowed far too much time on the ball in the middle third of the pitch and used it intelligently to execute accurate passes which unlocked a struggling defence. Diarmuid Connolly also played quite deep, which further increased Dublin's possession ratio and options menu, presenting Louth with a range of problems they were never going to solve. They added to the difficulties by making silly errors, including picking the difficult pass when a simpler one was on. And if that wasn't damaging enough, they gifted Dublin a third goal in the 22nd minute when goalkeeper Sean Connor misplaced his clearance, leaving Eoin O Conghaile with an easy chance to kick a point. However, his kick yielded a higher dividend as it dipped just beneath the crossbar and into the net. Louth improved over the next 10 minutes, scoring five points, but the good work was undone in stoppage time when another outbreak of defensive panic allowed Paul Hudson to flick in Dublin's fourth goal, extending the lead to 13 points (4-8 to 0-7). A place in the final had already been secured by Dublin, but with so many players battling to make the cut for the National League panel, it was expected that they would keep up the tempo for the full 70 minutes. With an embarrassingly big defeat now a distinct possibility, Louth reacted positively and raised their game in a low-scoring third quarter, which yielded just three points in a 2-1 split to Aidan O'Rourke's men. Jim McEneaney, Louth's top scorer on 0-5, pointed a free in the 48th minute, which tuned out to be their final score. Dublin were largely dominant throughout the final quarter, scoring a further six points, while also kicking several wides, including a clear goal opportunity in the final minute when substitute Pat Burke was just off target. Dublin kicked 14 wides in the course of the game, an error rate which will be on the agenda in training this week. 'We created a lot of chances, but shot a lot of wides too, so obviously it's an area we need to work on. The quality of the finish wasn't good enough at times,' said Dublin manager Jim Gavin. It was the only blip on an otherwise convincing performance, albeit against weak opposition. Dublin have mixed their game quite efficiently in three O'Byrne Cup victories and with so many big names still to return, the battle for places will be intense when the serious business gets under way early next month. Newcomers Guckian and McCaffrey did well in the halfback line, while in attack O Conghaile and Paddy Andrews (prior to being replaced at half-time) worked intelligently with Brogan and Connolly, both of whom are certain to be key performers again this year. Substitutes Paul Mannion and Cormac Costello also did well, further adding to the range of exciting options available to Gavin. Hard decisions ahead, Jim, when it comes to finalising the League panel? 'It's pretty black and white. The guys who are performing get the slots, the guys who aren't go back to the clubs,' Gavin said. He hasn't had a chance to work with some players who are college-tied in the O'Byrne Cup, or the Ballymun contingent who are preparing for the All-Ireland club semi-final, so he will have plenty to mull over when everybody is available. He plans to continue the policy of combining youth and experience for the O'Byrne Cup final against Kildare in Parnell Park next Saturday (7.0), which will be an altogether bigger test than Dublin encountered yesterday. 'We got a lot of good scores, but had a lot of misses too, so there's plenty to work on. We'll take the lessons learned today and work on them in training,' he said. As for Louth, it's best if they banish this game from the memory bank as quickly as possible. They will be much better when they return to full strength and, besides, they are in Division 2, so they won't be coming across the likes of Dublin over the next few months. Still, the standard is quite high in Division 2, so they could well find themselves caught up in a grim relegation battle. That will certainly be the case unless their defensive structure is solidified. It was so bad at times yesterday that even a good junior team would have exploited the gaps. DUBLIN: Stephen Cluxton 0-1 '45'; Darren Daly, Tomas Brady, Darragh Nelson; Chris Guckian, Ger Brennan, Jack McCaffrey 0-2; Declan O'Mahony, Denis Bastick; Emmet O Conghaile 1-1, Diarmuid Connolly 0-1, Paddy Quinn 0-1; Paul Hudson 1-0, Paddy Andrews 0-1, Bernard Brogan 2-7 (0-6f). Subs: Shane Carthy for O'Mahony (ht), Paul Mannion or Andrews (ht), Pat Burke for Quinn (45), Cormac Costello 0-1 for Connolly (55), Davy Byrne for Brennan (57), Kevin McManamon for Hudson (65, blood sub). LOUTH: Sean Connor; Jamie Carr, Bernard Mulligan, John Bingham; Adrian Reid, Liam Shevlin, Declan Byrne; Conor Rafferty 0-1, Ronan Carroll; Ruairi Moore, Jim McEneaney 0-5 (0-3f), Sean McCann 0-1; David Reid 0-2, Eoin O'Connor, Daniel O'Connor 0-1. Subs: John O'Brien for Moore (23), Gerard Hoey for Mulligan (ht), Derek Crilly for Byrne (ht), Patrick Sheelan for McCann (45), Conor McGuinness for Rafferty (55). REFEREE: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).