Friday 20 July 2018

Crisis time in Leinster as the rest lose sight of Dublin

Dublin 1-25 Laois 0-10

24 June 2018; Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin shoots to score his side's first goal during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Laois at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
24 June 2018; Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin shoots to score his side's first goal during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Laois at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It used to be one of the great occasions on the summer calendar but now the Leinster football final is no more than a sad reminder of the crisis engulfing the largest province.

The hope every year is that some county will, at the very least, present Dublin with a decent challenge but it doesn't materialise.

Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Gareth Dillon of Laois. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Gareth Dillon of Laois. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

If anything, the gap is widening and with Dublin now having the other Leinster counties in the tightest of psychological grips, it's impossible to see how change will come about.

With Meath and Kildare, who traditionally were Dublin's biggest rivals in Leinster, not even good enough this year to earn the right to play them, it fell to Wicklow, Longford and Laois to prepare Jim Gavin's crew for the inaugural 'Super 8'.

That's all the rest of Leinster do nowadays and, even then, not particularly well. Dublin will return to the training ground this week, not really knowing how finely tuned they are for the bigger tests ahead.

Tormentors

How could they? Demolishing Wicklow, Longford and Laois by a total of 60 points merely informs them of how far ahead they are in Leinster but a great many counties from the other three provinces would have also beaten that trio.

Niall Scully of Dublin in action against Colm Begley of Laois. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Niall Scully of Dublin in action against Colm Begley of Laois. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dublin crushed them en route to an eighth successive Leinster title - their 57th overall - and will now begin the build-up to the opening 'Super 8' clash with Donegal on July 14 or 15.

Laois await the winners of the Round 3 qualifiers in their bid to get 'Super 8' status which, if achieved, will place them on the opposite side to Dublin.

That's a mercy of sorts as the last thing they want is a quick rematch with yesterday's tormentors.

Prior to yesterday, Dublin had won their 17 Leinster games under Gavin by an average of 16 points. They beat Laois by 18 points but it could - and should - have been a whole lot more.

Michael Darragh Macauley of Dublin in action against John O'Loughlin of Laois. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Michael Darragh Macauley of Dublin in action against John O'Loughlin of Laois. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Paul Mannion fired a penalty wide in the 20th minute, by which stage Laois goalkeeper, Graham Brody had pulled off a few excellent saves.

He made another fine block from Jack McCaffrey in the 44th minute and when he was forced off with an injury his replacement, Eoghan Keogh did well to prevent goals on at least two occasions.

In addition, Dublin shot nine wides in the first half, an error rate not normally associated with such a slick forward division.

Even the loss of sub John Small on a straight red card in the 57th minute didn't disrupt Dublin, whose point-taking in the second half was of the highest standard.

Kieran Lillis of Laois in action against Cormac Costello of Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kieran Lillis of Laois in action against Cormac Costello of Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

By the end, they had no fewer than nine players on the scoresheet, led by Dean Rock (0-8) and Ciaran Kilkenny (1-4). Cormac Costello made a significant contribution too, scoring four points after replacing Paddy Andrews in the 45th minute.

Such was Dublin's dominance that they could afford to leave Kevin McManamon, Colm Basquel and Cian O'Sullivan on the bench for the entire game.

Yet for all their apparent superiority in the second half, there were times earlier on when Dublin looked quite ordinary. Laois obviously figured that long deliveries towards Donie Kingston could yield dividends.

And they did too as Kingston used his height and strength to good effect. However, the support play wasn't nearly consistent enough, which meant that stand-in Dublin goalkeeper, Evan Comerford was rarely troubled.

The injured Stephen Cluxton had the unusual experience of watching Dublin from the stands for the first time since June 2004. They lost to Westmeath that day but there was never going to a repeat yesterday.

Kilkenny's fourth-minute goal set them on their way and while Laois battled back to draw level at the end of the first quarter, there was always a sense that once Dublin sorted out the inaccuracy glitch, the blue ribbons could be attached to the Delaney Cup.

Mannion's penalty miss was accompanied by a series of other squandered chances, but that all changed in the 10 minutes before half-time when Dublin scored five unanswered points to lead by 1-8 to 0-5 at the interval.

It was deeply ominous for Laois, whose supporters would have begun to expect the worst. And so it turned out in a lopsided second half, which Dublin won by 0-17 to 0-5, with two Laois points coming in stoppage time.

It was all embarrassingly easy for Dublin, who looked as if they could power up several more gears if the occasion demanded.

Rivals

But then it has been the same for the last five years, a period in which the closest any Leinster rivals came to them was in 2013 when they beat Meath by seven points in the final. That apart, it has been a sequence of hopelessly one-sided games.

And the sad fact remains that there's no sign the gap will narrow over the foreseeable future. Kildare tumbled out of Division One this year, Meath have been trapped in Division Two for 12 years and will remain there next year, while the rest are in Divisions Three and Four.

Laois are improving, but the fact remains that they plied their trade in Division Four this year before beating Wexford, who were relegated from Division Three , Westmeath (mid-table Division Three) and Carlow (Division Four)

Given that background, it was always unlikely that they would test the most successful squad ever produced by Dublin.

A crowd of 41,728 attended yesterday's game which, given the near-certainty of a one-sided contest, was quite impressive. But how much longer will it continue? Even Dublin supporters must be getting bored watching their team rack up Leinster titles with such ridiculous ease.

SCORERS - Dublin: D Rock 0-8 (5f, 1'45'), C Kilkenny 1-4, C Costello 0-4, B Fenton, C O'Callaghan, P Andrews 0-2 each, P Mannion, N Scully, B Howard 0-1 each. Laois: D Kingston 0-4 (2f), A Farrell, G Walsh 0-2 each, K Lillis, E O'carroll 0-1 each.

DUBLIN - E Comerford 7; P McMahon 7, M Fitzsimons 6, E Lowndes 6; B Howard 8, J McCarthy 7, J Cooper 7; B Fenton 7, MD Macauley 7; N Scully 7, C O'Callaghan 7, P Mannion 6; D Rock 7, C Kilkenny 9, P Andrews 7.

Subs: J McCaffrey 7 for Lowndes (ht), C Costello 8 for Andrews (45), J Small for Macauley (52), P Flynn 6 for O'Callaghan (55), D Daly 6 for Mannion (61), C McHugh for Rock (68).

LAOIS - G Brody 7; D Strong 6, M Timmons 5, G Dillon 6; T Collins 6, C Begley 6, F Crowley 5; J O'Loughlin 6, K Lillis 6; A Farrell 6, P Kingston 5, N Donoher 6; E O'Carroll 6, D Kingston 7, D O'Connor 5.

Subs: B Carroll 6 for Donoher (48), R Munnelly 5 for Crowley (51), E Keogh 7 for Brody (55), D Holland 5 for Strong (58),B Glynn for Farrell (63), G Walsh 7 for P Kingston (67).

REF - B Cassidy (Derry).

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