Monday 20 November 2017

A record seventh Leinster title in a row for ruthless Dublin but Kildare escape with credit

Dublin 2-23 Kildare 1-17

Kevin Feely of Kildare in action against Jack McCaffrey of Dublin during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kildare at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Kevin Feely of Kildare in action against Jack McCaffrey of Dublin during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kildare at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

The Dublin football juggernaut rolls on relentlessly. For the seventh season in a row and the 12th time in 13 seasons, they have been crowned Leinster football champions.

It is the first time in the history of the series that a team has won seven in a row, though it is one short of the record number of successive provincial wins which Kerry set twice in Munster.

Ex Dublin minor star Con O'Callaghan announced his arrival as a player of real substance; he was the game's leading scorer with a 0-12 contribution – six from play while veteran Bernard Brogan , who replaced the black carded Dean Rock, hit five points from play.

But the key scores were two goals within the space of ninety seconds in the first half from Dean Rock and James McCarthy while a brilliant save by Stephen Cluxton from Daniel Flynn in the third quarter extinguished Kildare's chances of a second half comeback.

No disrespect to Kildare, but the milestones set by Dublin were probably more eye-catching than the actual game.

Team captain Stephen Cluxton equalled the all time championship appearance record of 88 held jointly by the O Sé brothers, Tomas and Marc. Remarkably it was Cluxton's 76th championship appearance on the trot.

The only blot on the day was that he didn't keep a clean sheet, though he was 50 on that front already and he picked up his twelfth Leinster championship medal – another record. Given his high standards, he will be disappointed that seven of his re-starts were won by Kildare.

It was another historic day for team boss Jim Gavin; Dublin have now won five titles and 15 games on the spin in Leinster under his command; they stretched their unbeaten championship run to 17 games in a row under Gavin and his overall record stands at an astonishing 27-1.

In the absence of the injured Jonny Cooper Dublin reshaped their defence with Cian O'Sullivan dropping back to mark Daniel Flynn while the recalled John Small lined out at centre back where he marked Niall Kelly.

But it was Kildare who hit the ground running, winning the throw-in and working the ball forward for Flynn to kick the game's opening score after 20 seconds. Stephen Cluxton's first kick-out was knocked away from Brian Fenton by his marker Kevin Feely and Kildare flowed forward in numbers for what was to prove a decisive moment in the half.

Tommy Moolick got inside the cover but he shot weakly at goal and James McCarthy comfortably saved his effort. It was to prove a crucial let-off for Dublin.

After points from Paul Mannion – who started at full forward – Ciaran Kilkenny and Con O'Callaghan put Dublin 0-3to 0-1 ahead after nine minutes they struck for two goals in the space of 90 seconds.

With both teams pressing up on the opposition kick-outs both keepers had to go long. Initially Kildare did well winning their first three re-starts from Mark Donnellan. Then it all went horribly wrong in the tenth minute.

The ball was turned over in midfield and suddenly Dublin found themselves in space with Kilkenny putting Dean Rock through and he made no mistake from close range. Kildare did win the next kick out only to surrender possession in the middle third of the field and Dublin's counter-attack was devastating.

Again all their forwards were outside the D but once they hit the accelerator did split the Kildare defence with Con O'Callaghan putting midfielder James McCarthy through. He underlined the team's ruthlessness by refusing to opt for an easy point and inside stepped inside and squeezed the ball over the line.

Dublin did hit three wides in a row but O'Callaghan scored his second and Dublin's fourth after 18 minutes the Dubs were 2-4 to 0-1 ahead and Kildare looked to be facing a long afternoon.

But their response was magnificent as they outscored Dublin 0-9 to 0-4 during the remainder of the half . Dublin's woes began when Dean Rock was black carded after he pulled back Mick O'Grady by the leg in the 22nd minute.

Mind you his replacement Bernard Brogan scored two points while O'Callaghan proved an able deputy when it came to free taking converting two chances.

But by the end of the half the Kildare full forward line of Paddy Brophy, Daniel Flynn and Cathal McNally had scored 0-5 from play with wing backs Johnny Byrne and Keith Cribbin chipping in with a point each to leave Kildare trailing by four at the break (2-8; 0-10) but back in the game.

Dublin had significantly more success winning the Kildare kick-outs at the start of the second half and with Brogan in sparking form they extended their advantage.

A key moment came after 44 minutes when a David Slattery pass put Daniel Flynn clear of the defence but Cluxton advanced and brilliantly saved the full forward's effort. On his record 88th appearance he seemed determined to keep his 51st clean sheet.

Flynn missed another point chance and Dublin started to turn the screw with the increasingly influential Con O'Callaghan adding three points – two from frees – and Bernard Brogan hitting two to bring his tally to five.

Even though the Dublin full back line look less than assured – both McMahon and O'Sullivan were replaced Dublin were in control, even though Kildare excelled at winning their own kick outs until Kevin Feely was black carded in the 62nd minute.

They needed goals to get back in contention – but the goal didn't come until deep in injury time from Paddy Brophy who was their top scorer with 1-3.

The goal and the fact that the referee didn't allow a Paul Mannion goal immediately afterwards – he gave Dublin a free for an earlier infringement – meant that for the first time since the 2013 Leinster final Dublin didn't beat the opposition in the championship by double digit figures – they won by nine.

The attendance was 66,734, the biggest at a GAA championship game so far in 2017

Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon, C O'Sullivan, M Fitzsimons, E Lowndes; J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, J McCarthy (1-0); N Scully, C Kilkenny (0-2), P Mannion (0-1), C O'Callaghan (0-12, 6f), P Andrews (0-1), P Mannion (0-1). D Rock (1-0). Subs; B Brogan (0-5) for Rock BC 25m; S Carthy (0-1) for Scully 47m; D Daly for McMahon 48m; K McManamon for Andrews 51m, D Byrne for O'Sullivan 58m. B Howard (0-1) for Fenton 66m.

Kildare: M Donnellan, M O'Grady, D Hyland, O Lyons; J Byrne (0-1), E Doyle, K Cribbin (0-1); K Feely (0-5, 4f), T Moolick; F Conway, N Kelly (0-1), D Slattery (0-1); P Brophy (1-3, 1f), D Flynn (0-2), C McNally (0-2). Subs; P Cribbin for Conway 44m; F Downing for Moolick 48m; P Kelly for Doyle 52m; B McCormack for McNally 56m; E Bolton for Byrne 21m; E O'Callaghan for Feely (BC) 64m

Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow)

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