Martin Breheny: Dubs outclass Royals with measured ease
Leinster SFC semi-final: Dublin 0-21 Meath 0-11
Match time changed but not much else did. An evening throw-in provided an unusual backdrop for a Leinster semi-final in Croke Park but there was an all too familiar feel to the game as Dublin overpowered Meath to book a Leinster final place for the 11th time in 12 seasons.
They did it while giving the clear impression that there was a whole lot more in reserve if the occasion demanded.
That was certainly the case in the second half when Dublin restricted Meath to three points, the third not coming until the final minute of stoppage-time.
Meanwhile, Dublin kept the scoreboard ticking along, a process that would probably have yielded more scores if they had gone flat out.
Instead, they were content to hold possession for much of the final quarter, crabbing across the field with a mixture of hand and foot-passing.
It left Meath deeply frustrated as they couldn't get anything like the amount of possession they needed to work on a lead which reached 11 points before sub Ronan Jones closed out the scoring.
The one big difference between this and so many of Dublin's wins in Leinster in recent years was that they failed to score a goal, something not previously experienced since the 2010 semi-final against Meath.
Things were very different back then as the Royals hit Dublin for 5-9 after unlocking the defence with a series of smart, incisive thrusts.
There were times yesterday when Dublin's security looked somewhat lax but Meath lacked the attacking power and subtlety to exploit it.
That became increasingly obvious as the game progressed and, by the end, five of Meath's six starting forwards had been withdrawn.
The Royals started well, opening up a0-3 to 0-1 lead after 10 minutes.
They came close to scoring a goal too in the fourth minute when after fetching a high ball, Dalton McDonagh had his initial shot smothered by Stephen Cluxton.
McDonagh had a second chance but it was also blocked, albeit in circumstances where Meath could consider themselves unlucky not have been award a penalty as Cluxton appeared to foul the Meath corner-forward as he tried to regain his balance.
Dublin were unusually wasteful early on, shooting five wides in the opening 10 minutes.
Significantly, they kicked only one more wide for the rest of the half, during which they scored 10 points.
They led by three points on four occasions, only for Meath to pare it back to two each time before Paul Flynn close out the scoring to leave Dublin leading by 0-11 to 0-8 at the interval.
It looked promising enough for Meath but, in reality, that may have been misleading. They had expended a whole lot of energy trying to match Dublin, who were always likely to improve.
Meath needed a good start to the second half but it didn't materialise. Instead,they kicked three wides in the first 10 minutes, period in which Dublin scored two points.
It began to look ominous for Meath and as their discipline in the tackle disintegrated, Dean Rock punished them from a range of angles and distances.
Rock's reliability from placed balls really is a major asset for Dublin. He pointed nine frees yesterday, all stroked over with effortless ease.
Dublin led by 0-17 to 0-10 at the three-quarter mark, by which stage it was clear that Meath's race in Leinster was run and that their All-Ireland future rested in the Qualifiers.
They will do so with some positives. They did well enough for periods in the first half and while that was probably down to Dublin not being as precise as usual, Meath have something to build on.
In any event, the opposition on the Qualifier circuit won't be anywhere near as powerful as what they encountered yesterday.
Meath defender Mickey Burke referred in the match programme to football being "like a religion" in the county while promising supporters "a game and a performance they'd be happy with".
Certainly, nobody could question Meath's work-rate or their persistence but they simply didn't have the quality to match Dublin.
Meath would have been encouraged by the manner in which Galway and Tipperary upset the odds in Connacht and Munster but there's a massive difference between Mayo and Cork and a Dublin squad overflowing with confidence.
Still, the question arises of how the Dublin defence will cope against better attacks than they encounter in Leinster.
They didn't look comfortable when high balls were pumped in towards Cluxton's goal, which will have been noted by the other major powers who are, no doubt, studying Dublin with a view to devising ways of counteracting them later on.
Rory O' Carroll's defiance in the danger area is missed; so too Jack McCaffrey's pace out of the half-back line. Still, Dublin have so much going for them as an overall package that it may well be enough to maintain them in the No 1 slot.
That they were able to withdraw Bernard Brogan and Kevin McManamon before the hour mark underlines the depth of talent available to Jim Gavin.
Brogan had scored 0-3 from open play while McManamon had been his usual industrious self and while he was held scoreless, he didn't waste anything, almost always picking out a colleague with an accurate pass.
Diarmuid Connolly showed some delightful touches while Paul Flynn made a solid contribution too.
Another satisfactory day then for Dublin, who took their winning run in Leinster to 17 games and set them up for a clash with Westmeath in what will be a repeat of last year's final.
On the evidence of yesterday's two semi-finals, Westmeath really are facing a massive test on so many fronts.
Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-10 (9fs), D Connolly 0-4, B Brogan 0-3, P Flynn 0-2, P Mannion, B Fenton 0-1 each. Meath: M Newman 0-4 (3fs), G Reilly 0-3, C O'Sullivan 0-2 (1f), E Wallace, R Jones 0-1 each.
Dublin - S Cluxton 7; P McMahon 7, J Cooper 7, D Byrne 7; J McCarthy 6, C O'Sullivan 7, J Small 6; B Fenton 7, D Bastick 6; P Flynn 7, K McManamon 7, C Kilkenny 7; D Rock 7, D Connolly 8, B Brogan 7. Subs: MD Macauley 7 for Bastick (ht), P Mannion 7 for Brogan (53), P Andrews 6 for McManamon (58), E Lowndes 6 for Small (60), M Fitzsimons for O'Sullivan (63), C O'Callaghan for Flynn (67).
Meath - P O'Rourke 7; D Tobin 6, D Keogan 7, M Burke 6; D Smyth 6, P Harnan 7, A Douglas 6; H Rooney 6, C O'Brien 6, G Reilly 7, C O'Sullivan 6, E Wallace 5; D McDonagh 5, A Tormey 5, M Newman 6. Subs: R Jones 6 for Tormey (53), S Lavin 5 for Wallace (54),S Tobin 5 for McDonagh (60), J Wallace for Reilly (63), C Finn for Douglas (67), B McMahon for O'Sullivan (67).
Ref - R Hickey (Clare)