Tuesday 23 January 2018

Lilywhites sunk by a Blue wave

Jim Gavin, Dublin manager, during the game. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Kildare v Dublin, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Jim Gavin, Dublin manager, during the game. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Kildare v Dublin, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

IN a week when big reputations counted for zero in Wimbledon, Carton House, the Curragh and Portlaoise, Jim Gavin might have feared that a favourite-zapping virus was spreading wildly through sport and possibly targeting Dublin as its next destination.

And when Kildare helped themselves to 1-2 into the Hill 16 goal in the opening seven minutes at Croke Park yesterday, it looked as if the day might indeed take on a surprising dimension. It did, but not in the way Kildare expected.

Instead of having that early deposit as a source of sustenance over a prolonged period, they had it cleaned out very quickly, leaving them facing a long, lonely afternoon where their limitations were cruelly exposed by a Dublin team that took this year's total league/ championship return against Kildare to an impressive 6-36.

It also took their championship total against Westmeath and Kildare to 5-38 and sent supporters' pulses racing faster in anticipation of a long hot summer leading to a bountiful autumn.

Certainly, there's a whole lot to admire about how Dublin have gone about their business in Gavin's first year, not least the underlying structure which is based on harnessing the creativity of the attack.

It's backed up by a solid midfield pairing, where Cian O'Sullivan is growing into the partnership with Michael Darragh Macauley, and further back the defence is tightening all the time.

Essentially, though, Dublin's strategy is about setting a high-scoring target for opponents to worry about. Once that's achieved, the other jigsaw pieces tend to fit neatly into a picture which has an AllIreland title as its main outline.

Of course, Dublin need to keep a tight rein on expectations. Kildare melted in much the same way under Cork-generated heat in last year's All-Ireland quarter- final, yet the Leesiders came face-to-face with a different reality against Donegal in the semi-final.

There's no doubt that Dublin have tougher tests ahead but they will approach them with an ever-increasing sense of confidence.

Apart from amassing a huge score, the most pleasing aspect of yesterday's performance from a Dublin perspective was the manner in which they worked their way through the early problems. Pat Brophy capitalised on a slip by John Cooper to fire in Kildare's goal in the sixth minute and, when he added a point a minute later to put them five clear, it all looked very promising for the Lilywhites.

A total of 1-12 was enough to win the 2011 Dublin-Kildare Leinster semi-final and, after bagging 1-2 so early, Kieran McGeeney would have thought that his side would bring their overall score towards the 17-point mark. As it happened, they didn't but then it wouldn't have been anywhere near enough to match Dublin's remarkable productivity.

In addition to scoring 4-16, Dublin could easily have had another six goals. In the first half alone, James McCarthy hit the post with a goal attempt; Macauley's drive was deflected out for a '45'; Ciaran Kilkenny opted to take a point when a goal was on, and Bernard Brogan had a shot brilliantly saved by Shane Connolly.

For all that, Dublin led by 2-7 to 1-5 at half-time and were comfortably on their way to a clash with Meath in the final on Sunday week.

They began the repair work on the early damage in the eighth minute when Paul Mannion scored their first goal, which settled Dublin into a rhythm that they maintained all the way to the finish. Kilkenny, who was at his best when the contest was still alive in the first half, Paul Flynn and Mannion were full of invention in attack and, with Dublin moving at a pace that frequently left Kildare stranded, the agenda was all blue.

Still, Kildare managed to hang on until stoppage-time in the first half when Brogan scored Dublin's second goal to put them five points clear. Kildare took a long time in the dressing-room at half-time but however much re-programming they did counted for absolutely nothing against a rampant Dublin side, who added a further 2-9 while conceding just four points.

Dublin outscored Kildare by 1-6 to 0-2 in the third quarter, by which stage Gavin had the luxury of unloading his high-quality bench to give them valuable game time.

Eoghan O'Gara, Kevin McManamon, Nicky Devereux, Dean Rock, Kevin O'Brien and Kevin Nolan (as a blood-sub), all of whom would be on Kildare's starting 15, were introduced in the second half, while experienced trio Bryan Cullen, Denis Bastick and Michael Fitzsimons were also there as back-up. It underlines the depth of the talent pool in which Gavin is fishing these days.

McGeeney enjoys far less luxury but there will still be surprise that Kildare leaked so badly.

It now remains to be seen what impact it will have on Kildare's confidence as they once again head for the tough qualifier circuit. They have done well via that route under McGeeney and may well enjoy another good run but, even if they do return to Croke Park for the All-Ireland quarter-finals in early August, that's as far as they are likely to go.

But then, maybe that's where Kildare are positioned right now. They lack genuine quality in many sectors and, while they have been good at disguising it in the past, they were systematically exposed yesterday.

The pace and precision of the Dublin attack mesmerised them to such an extent that if the final score had been 8-16 to 1-9, it would not have in any way misrepresented the action.

Nine Dublin players got on the scoresheet, stretching from Stephen Cluxton, who pointed four '45s' to Brogan, who landed 1-1 before being replaced by McManamon, who made an immediate impact, in the 48th minute.

Twelve minutes later, Gavin sent on three more subs at the same time, sure Diarmuid Connolly shoots past Kildare goalkeeper Shane Connolly to score Dublin's third goal.

Fingal Independent

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