Sunday 26 January 2020

Gilroy's blueprint clicking into gear

colm keys

It didn't matter to the many Louth supporters in the 47,738-strong crowd that their team had just delivered their least inspiring display of a five-match championship campaign.

The players and management slowly ambled their way around Croke Park in appreciation as large pockets of their own people remained behind to acclaim them. This was their lap of honour without silverware, a public show of how their county stands steadfast behind them and the bond they have forged in the last two months.

As they reached the Hill 16 end where many Dublin supporters had remained behind, the acclaim grew more audible. 'C-h-a-m-p-i-o-n-e-s' sang the blue hordes who stood in solidarity with them over the Leinster final fiasco almost two weeks earlier.

By that stage the Dublin team were already preparing to board their bus in the corridor beneath the Hogan Stand for their regular post-match routine just a couple of miles away.

Job done. Move on. Quarter-finals. Back to the scene of some of their worst crimes. From a distance you can't say that they are any better prepared for what may be ahead by comparison to last year. What could have been better than the resilient manner of their victory over Kildare in last year's Leinster final with 14 men for the most part? Or the obliteration of Wexford 12 months earlier?

But the vibe from the protagonists themselves is that they feel better equipped for last-eight duty. Perhaps being forewarned is being forearmed.

Both Pat Gilroy and David Henry, manager and captain, solemnly declared that they now feel better equipped. To feel is better than to look, so they'll be taken at their word.


They did enough without having to do much more. Eoghan O'Gara, the strong man of the attack, used his muscular presence to shrug off Dessie Finnegan and crash home two first-half goals. It was the cue for the Brogan brothers to clock off early.

Between them they cooked up just two points from play, which raised a couple of points. First Bernard, as Tom O'Sullivan illustrated last season, can be held in check. Louth's John O'Brien once again showed nerve and concentration in more illustrious company. The other side of the coin is that Dublin do have other scoring outlets. O'Gara might not enjoy such profit again, but Bryan Cullen's three points signal a return to form in the position that now suits him best.

Elsewhere, Dublin did just as Gilroy had in mind for them. They worked hard, they moved the ball quickly and did mundane tasks well. For the second week running they didn't concede a goal.

Whatever about being better prepared than they were 12 months ago, they are certainly in better shape than they were one month ago.

The only change the management have to consider the next day is Paul Flynn for Niall Corkery. In fact, it's not a consideration, it's a must. Not everything is perfect, far from it indeed. Dublin's early rush was aided and abetted by the fragile state of mind Louth had to have come into the game in.

No matter how much you convince yourself otherwise, the fall-out from the Leinster final simply had to have had an impact. Small mistakes were amplified and resonated deeper and, naturally, the mind wanders back to what might and should have been.

Watching a ball rebound back off a post has a greater negative effect than it might ordinarily have. The first step to recovery is always the most treacherous and ultimately, it brought Louth down.

For the opening quarter Dublin's midfield just wiped them out and Louth never had the ball under their control behind Dublin's '45' in that period.

The frustration was evident everywhere. Midfielders berated goalkeeper Neil Gallagher for wayward kick-outs; Brian White complained when no one came short for frees he was probably going to kick long anyway.


Gallagher soloed to make space for a clearance and was caught in possession, coughing up a free which Bernard Brogan converted for a 0-3 to 0-0 lead after 10 minutes. A minute later an O'Gara shot leaked through Gallagher's hands for the first goal and effectively that was lights out.

It took 17 minutes for Louth's first score from a White free, but it got much worse before it got better. O'Gara turned his marker Finnegan much too easily and, off balance, beat Gallagher for a second goal. At 2-6 to 0-1 it threatened to be embarrassing.

They got to half-time two points better off -- 2-6 to 0-3 -- and from then on were able to match Dublin stride for stride.

Their captain Paddy Keenan really rose to the occasion after the break. He caught, he chased and finished with two points off either foot to reclaim midfield dominance long before the end as Michael Darragh Macauley and the impressive Ross McConnell were hauled off (Gilroy said both were injured afterwards).

Keenan has booked himself for a place on the shortlist of All Star midfielders and it will surely take three solid performances from two others on the run-in to bypass him at this stage.

Significantly, Louth's next best players after Keenan and O'Brien were all five substitutes, an indication of the effect of two weeks ago perhaps.

Dublin were always able to keep them at arm's length. McConnell had his best game of the season, while Cullen mixed industry with precision finishing in attack.

At the back, Kevin Nolan and Philip McMahon continue to grow in stature and confidence, while Ger Brennan didn't look vulnerable. The ploy of bringing up Stephen Cluxton up to kick '45s' worked again, a clear exercise in a team playing to its strengths.

Gilroy has his team where they want to be -- back in the last eight with a plan to concede less than their opponents rather than score more. That makes them a different team from 12 months ago, not necessarily a better one.

For Louth there was the applause of the crowd from the stands ringing in their ears at the end and the harsh reality that an inch is as long as a mile.

Scorers -- Dublin: E O'Gara 2-1, B Cullen, B Brogan (0-2f) 0-3 each, S Cluxton 0-2 (0-2 '45s'), G Brennan, R McConnell, A Brogan, P Flynn, T Quinn (f) 0-1 each. Louth: B White (0-3f), D Clarke (0-2f) 0-3 each, D Byrne, P Keenan 0-2 each, A McDonnell, S Lennon, D Maguire 0-1 each.

Dublin -- S Cluxton 7; M Fitzsimons 7, R O'Carroll 6, P McMahon 7; K Nolan 7, G Brennan 7, B Cahill 7; M D Macauley 7, R McConnell 7; N Corkery, D Henry 6, B Cullen 8; A Brogan 6, E O'Gara 8, B Brogan 6. Subs: P Flynn 7 for Corkery (41), C Keaney 6 for Henry (42), E Fennell 5 for McConnell (49), D Magee 5 for Macauley (54), T Quinn 5 for A Brogan (58).

Louth -- N Gallagher 4; J O'Brien 8, D Finnegan 4, E McAuley 6; R Finnegan 4, M Fanning 6, S Fitzpatrick 5; P Keenan 8, B White 5; M Brennan 5, A McDonnell 6, A Reed 5; C Judge 4, S Lennon 6, J P Rooney 4. Subs: D Byrne 7 for R Finnegan (35), D Clarke 6 for Judge (35), R Carroll 7 for White (47), D Maguire 6 for Rooney (59), D Crilly for Fitzpatrick (66).

Ref -- P McEnaney (Monaghan).

Irish Independent

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