Monday 22 July 2019

Dubs on course in drive-for-five

The Championship: Dublin 1-17 Meath 0-4

Rory Kerr at Croke Park

So here are the facts. Dublin's 16-point win over Meath was their 28th straight consecutive win in the province.

It was their ninth successive provincial crown, which was another new record. Meath's four point tally was the lowest since 1985, when Dublin overcame Laois.

Should we be excited? Perhaps not. One Dublin fan stifled a yawn as Stephen Cluxton lifted the Delaney Cup, Dublin's 14th success in 15 years.

And yet, all things considered, 47,027 paying punters turned up for the 62nd meeting between the sides. Not a bad day's taking for the Leinster council where gate receipts have been steadily falling.

It may well be we will never see those great encounters of the late eighties and early nineties that made this rivalry such riveting viewing.

But, all things considered, this was a decent turnout given the the day that was in it. Conditions were dark, damp and overcast, and Meath never hit the ground running.

One of the players, Ben Brennan, hit the ground alright just before half time. The Meath management was incensed but that was probably as vocal they got during the game.

It can be argued that they succeeded in stymieing the Dublin attack in the first half but where Dublin counter attacked with good effect Meath seemed to run out of ideas in the final third of the field.

There was a small spell in the first half when they might have had a penalty, when Donal Keoghan was fouled just outside the small square, with the gap at five at that stage.

And then with twenty minutes to go Micky Newman had the chance to take the ball on and test Stephen Cluxton but instead chose to kick the ball over.

That summed up the height of Meath's attacking ambitions on the day and of their 17 chances from play only three were converted.

Dublin, for their part, reacted better in adversity. The loss of James McCarthy to what could be a bad injury just before the break may hurt Jim Gavin's men down the line. He came in for Michael Darragh Macauley in the only change to the team that beat Kildare in the semi-final on a day when the Ballymun Kickhams contingent played a central role for the reigning All Ireland champions.

Philly McMahon was also recalled to the defence while Dean Rock, having come on for Brian Howard, kicked three successive points from play.

As ever, the fight for places is arguably the biggest competition Dublin will face this season as they move one step closer to the elusive five-in-a-row.

They went into this game as uncrackable favourites to win Leinster. The 12 point handicap looked attractive early on but one wondered where the Meath scores were going to come from.

It took them all of 33 minutes to register their first point, by which time Dublin had moved five points clear. Admittedly, it was a slow enough start for Dublin, their efforts at that stage channeled into corralling Meath out on to the perimeters of the field.

As such, they operated in something of a vacuum before Ciaran Kilkenny, off a short sideline ball, curled the ball over from the left with 12 minutes gone on the clock.

Things opened up a bit after that with Jack McCaffrey, having ditched the bearded look, breaking up field to knock over Dublin's second before Cormac Costello landed a 45' on the quarter hour.

Meath in that period had seen two pointed efforts come back off the post at a stage when things were starting to click for Dublin.

Paul Mannion, already a contender for player of the year, having dinked inside sent over a glorious effort with his tried and tested left foot, before Howard fisted over.

And then on 27 minutes, a slip pass into Con O'Callaghan saw the 2017 young player felled but Mannion's penalty came back off the bottom of Andrew Colgan's right hand upright.

Meath continued to lead a charmed life after that with Meath full back Conor McGill getting in a crucial interception with Niall Scully about to pounce from the edge of the square.

And having weathered the storm, Meath opened their account through Bryan Menton to leave it 0-5 to 0-1 at the break.

Dublin then opened the second half with points from McCaffrey and Costello prior to Keoghan's break, which earned Meath a free in front of the posts which Newman converted.

Dublin kept the scores ticking along with two further points from Costello and McMahon before Newman, Meath's most potent forward on the day, found space down the left before opting to go for the point.

There came another terrific effort from Mannion which was followed shortly after by scores from current player of the year Brian Fenton and Costello. Costello, Dublin's most impressive performer this season, was called ashore with just under ten minutes to go at which stage Rock responded with three unanswered points - another welcome headache for Gavin.

Paddy Andrews then extended Dublin's lead to 13 points before O'Callaghan burst through the middle to rifle home past the keeper with seventy two minutes gone in the game before Newman added a late consolation score for Meath, who have beaten Dublin now only once in their last eleven meetings.

From Meath's perspective, they are still only one game from the Super Eights but, as more than one analyst would comment, this year's All Ireland championship is Dublin's to lose. Perhaps things will change in the next decade but, as of now, Dublin remain on course for the drive-for-five.

Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; Michael Fitzsimons, Philly McMahon 0-1, Jack McCaffrey 0-2; David Byrne, Cian O'Sullivan, John Small; James McCarthy, Brian Fenton 0-1; Niall Scully, Ciaran Kilkenny 0-1, Brian Howard 0-1; Cormac Costello 0-3, 0-2f, (0-1 45), Paul Mannion (0-3), Con O'Callaghan (1-0). Subs: Michael Darragh Macauley for McCarthy (32), Dean Rock 0-4, (0-1f) for Howard (52), Kevin McManamon for Costello (58), Paddy Small for Kilkenny (61), Paddy Andrews (0-01) for Paddy Small (65), Rory O'Carroll for McCaffrey (68).

Meath: Andrew Colgan; Shane Gallagher, Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill; James McEntee, Donal Keogan, Ronan Ryan; Bryan Menton (0-1), Shane McEntee; Cillian O'Sullivan, Bryan McMahon, Graham Reilly; Ben Brennan, Michael Newman(0-03, 0-1f), James Conlon. Subs: Sean Tobin for Brennan (39), Ethan Devine for Reilly (40), Thomas O'Reilly for Conlon (54), Barry Dardis for Shane McEntee (58), Sean Curran for Gallagher (65), Thomas McGovern for McMahon (65).

Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone).

Fingal Independent