THE death march sounded on Louth's championship ambitions at Croke Park yesterday, Dublin transmuting provincial rule over their neighbours into the domain of the qualifiers.
Two weeks after they were stunned in the Leinster final, Louth still looked punch-drunk as the Dubs raced into an early lead, boosted by a goal from Eoghan O'Gara. They never recovered and the game limped to an inevitable conclusion.
After the final whistle they went on a lap of honour to offer appreciation to their followers after the longest summer the county has witnessed in over half a century.
"It's very tough to take," their stellar midfielder Paddy Keenan said. We are very wary of looking back on the year and seeing the same old sob stories for Louth football. We don't need that. It's a very young team. We have to build on this."
Keenan denied the Leinster final and its treacherous conclusion had softened them. "I don't think there was a hangover from the Leinster final -- we just never turned up. At least we came out in the second half and fought, played a bit better."
Dublin won 2-14 to 0-13 and go into the draw for the quarter finals tonight with their spirits greatly restored after the five-goal thumping from Meath. But they won't be so foolish as to get ahead of themselves; yesterday was largely a bloodless coup.
"When we work hard everything else follows and that aspect of our game has improved," David Henry summed up. "We were mindful of the fact that the Louth midfield could get on top so we won the early exchanges and seemed to settle from there. A good start was important for us."
The muscular O'Gara scored 2-1, relieving Bernard Brogan of the scoring duties. "Eoghan (O'Gara) is playing very well in training and he has been giving our guys a tough time of it in our own sessions so this will do him good too," his manager Pat Gilroy said.
"But we have a big step to make. Our football is good and becoming more direct but we have to be prepared for what lies ahead. We are not as reliant on individuals as we were and we're playing as a team."
Dublin will be joined in this evening's draw by Kildare who defeated Monaghan yesterday, Cork and Down, who recorded wins over Limerick and Sligo respectively last night.
Monaghan's tired legs were no match for Kildare, winners by four points but a good deal better than that on the run of play. Six days after losing the Ulster final, Monaghan opened promisingly but could not sustain it.
By half-time Kildare had crept a point in front and they led by nine heading towards the hour mark, with a goal from Ronan Sweeney. James Kavanagh was their leading marksman with 0-5, 0-4 from play, and he also teed up the goal. Monaghan manager Seamus McEneaney declined to reveal his future intentions after he ended a sixth year in charge.
Meanwhile, leading names in football and hurling will publicly plead with supporters to stay off the Croke Park pitch as the GAA's championships reach the quarter-final stages.
In the wake of the controversial conclusion to the Leinster final two weeks ago, the GAA's concerns over the 'traditional' post-match invasion have been heightened.
"We will be launching a campaign encouraging supporters to stay off the field in the wake of that final and I think it's fair to say that the fall-out has crystalised further the very real need for us to get to grips with the practice of post-match invasions," said Association president Christy Cooney.
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