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Dublin forced to flex in face of the royals

Allianz FL Div 1: Dublin 1-20 Meath 0-19


Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny catches a mark ahead of Meath’s Gavin McCoy. Photo: Sportsfile

Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny catches a mark ahead of Meath’s Gavin McCoy. Photo: Sportsfile

Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny catches a mark ahead of Meath’s Gavin McCoy. Photo: Sportsfile

We'd seen this movie before.

The backdrop looked different and the extras were much more scarce. But the narrative followed a well-worn formula.

Three minutes into the second-half in Parnell Park on Saturday evening, Meath had dragged themselves back to within a point of Dublin.

Having turned over a Stephen Cluxton kick-out, something they did with impressive regularly, Shane Walsh - easily Meath's best forward on the night - had a chance.

Cluxton, all 38 years and 20 inter-county seasons of him, read the threat and advanced quickly, narrowing the angle and forcing Walsh to hit his side into the side netting.

From the restart, Cluxton found Brian Howard, who worked the ball to Niall Scully, who won a free, which Dean Rock - who had more reason than most to celebrate on the night - converted.

And from there, Dublin's big men - Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny, Con O'Callaghan and Rock, took over.

Dublin scored five of the next seven points and despite not having played a competitive match for 225 days, they were back doing what they seem do almost by reflex.

"We didn't really have a benchmark," admitted Dessie Farrell afterwards. "That gives it to us now.

"So it was good to get the first run out. Some of the fundamentals are still to be worked on.

"But that's what tonight was about, sharpening us up and getting us ready for games that lie ahead."

This was no exhibition match, no soft reintroduction to competitive football for either team.

On Saturday night in an empty Parnell Park, the standard and pace could scarcely have been any more vibrant had the old Donnycarney ground been filled with rival supporters.

Dean Rock, at 30, broke the all-time Dublin scoring record, overhauling Jimmy Keaveney in some calm side-footed 6th minute finish after a Meath kick-out was intercepted by Paddy Small. Stephen Cluxton, 38, became the country's longest-playing football.

Yet in the grand context of the evening, beneath the storm of uncertainty, both feats seemed little more than nuggets of trivia.

"Obviously that uncertainty is out there for sure," noted a masked Dessie Farrell afterwards.

"But it's a lot better position to be in than we were at the start of lock-down, when we thought everything was gone for the year."

If Farrell got plenty out of the evening Andy McEntee was no different.

Despite the loss, Meath's sixth from six in the league, they took more positive points away from Parnell Park than negative ones.

They trailed by seven points after 31 minutes, at which stage it appeared as though they could be buried under a familiar avalanche of Dublin scoring.

Yet they pulled it back to a single point not long after half-time.

"Never a doubt about their resilience and character," McEntee insisted.

"It would have been very easy, given the nature of the goal, to pack up and say 'it's not for us tonight.' But that's not the way they are."

They tackled ferociously too, turning Dublin over routinely whenever they honed into view of the Meath goal.

"One of the highlights, I think, for the night is seeing Eoin Harkin, Jordy Morris, Cathal Hickey, Jason Scully - guys like that," McEntee noted of his fresher faces.

"That's their first taste of senior inter-county football. And you'd have to say they stood up pretty well. That's the highlight of the night for me."

Other than a giveaway goal, Meath's undoing was their conversion rate. They kicked 11 wides and took none of three good goal chances, even if the springy reactions of Stephen Cluxton in his 20th senior inter-county season were at least partly responsible.

"We didn't come up to stick with Dublin," McEntee stressed. "Ultimately we weren't good enough to win it. That's the bottom line."

SCORERS - Dublin: D Rock 1-8 (5f), C O'Callaghan C Kilkenny 0-4 (1m) 0-4 each, B Fenton, P Small 0-2 each. Meath: T O'Reilly 0-6 (6f), S Walsh 0-4, C O'Sullivan 0-3 (2f), J Morris 0-2, B Menton, E Harkin, B Conlon, J Conlon 0-1 each.

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, D Byrne, C Murphy, J Cooper, J Small, R McDaid; B Fenton, E Ó Conghaile; E Lowndes, C Kilkenny, N Scully; P Small, C O'Callaghan, D Rock. Subs: E Murchan for Cooper (46), B Howard for Ó Conghaile (48), C O'Sullivan for J Small (53), A Byrne for P Small (62), S Bugler for Lowndes (70).

MEATH: M Brennan; D Toner, J McEntee, E Harkin, C Hickey, G McCoy, D Keogan; B Menton, R Jones; S McEntee, J Scully, E Devine; S Walsh, C O'Sullivan, T O'Reilly. Subs: J Morris for Devine (30), B Conlon for McCoy (39), D Campion for Scully (53), J Conlon for Walsh (60), D Lenihan for O'Reilly (66)

REF: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).