Dublin keep composure to extend dominance
Dublin 2-14 Kildare 0-17
If those who pressed the buttons at Congress in February to consign the U-21 football championship to the past had been in Navan on Saturday afternoon, their hearts might have weighed that little bit heavier.
Let's not dismiss the authentic reasons behind that decision and the bigger picture of burnout for players in this age bracket. Nor should the potential of a summer-based U-20 competition be overlooked.
But for much of this gripping contest it just felt like too great a sacrifice as two teams just went at it honestly and openly and played great football until one ran out of ideas and composure.
Dublin held their nerve to win in extra-time. You can't help feeling that the crest of the wave the county's footballers at all levels are currently surfing played its part.
They were seven points down, 0-9 to 0-2, at one stage in the first half, Kildare's Ben McCormack lighting things up with some of the most magnificent points off left and right you are likely to see.
Dublin manager Dessie Farrell admitted that he considered using a sweeper in front of McCormack - substitute Shane Clayton eventually got to grips with him - to try and stem the tide but instead trusted his players to figure a way out.
His faith was repaid and, inevitably, it was Con O'Callaghan who emerged as the key strategist, his goal on 26 minutes reining in Kildare at a time when they looked like they were disappearing into the distance.
O'Callaghan is currently the only U-21 member of Dublin's senior panel and appears well down the pecking order but he is quite a talent, often turning creator here in addition to hitting 1-7 of his own.
For Farrell and Dublin, this felt a little like bonus territory. This isn't the group he and others have carefully nurtured through the development squad system and the presence of only one senior squad member suggests that they might not be as talented as previous teams.
"They are developing their own personality as a team in their own right and that's interesting to watch," he said.
The win gives Dublin their first ever three-in-a-row at provincial level (goalkeeper Lorcan Molloy and substitute Michael Deegan were on all three teams). The bookies had Kildare, minor champions three years ago, as favourites and physically Dublin expected to be in deficit.
When Paul Mescal hammered into Cillian O'Shea, forcing him out after only four minutes, and the imposing Pascal Connell thundered into Killian Deeley 20 minutes later, that difference was perfectly crystallised.
"They are a more mature side," acknowledged Farrell. "We probably had four or five lads that finished the game today who are doing their Leaving Cert.
"We knew they were going to be physically stronger."
That Kildare so badly lost their composure to a less experienced team in extra-time, especially the second period when they were chasing the game, will add to their hurt. Repeatedly they carried the ball into contact, Dublin's invitation to engage them in the 'D' taken up with the enthusiasm of lemmings heading for the cliff.
The contrast then with the first half couldn't be greater as McCormack nailed five points from five shots with space all around him. For each one he had work to do to engineer the chance.
Beside him Neil Flynn was less explosive but more consistent and long into the second half and beyond he was the one carrying the game to Dublin, eventually finishing with 10 points.
O'Callaghan had a shaky start, missing two frees from close range that he'd be comfortably expected to convert. But gradually his prints were all over Dublin's game as he overtook Colm Basquel as their key influencer.
Basquel had a 15th-minute shot saved by Kildare goalkeeper Declan Campbell who was called into action again to make another great save, this time from O'Callaghan just before the break to preserve a 0-10 to 1-5 interval lead.
Dublin levelled quickly on the restart, Kildare responded through Chris Healy and Flynn from a free but four in succession for the champions opened a two-point gap on 50 minutes as Andrew Foley, Brian Howard, Glenn O'Reilly and Martin Cahilan got busier.
Kildare were spirited though - Ryan Houlihan never stopped probing, Luke Flynn got more involved and the ever- energetic Con Kavanagh also helped to give them a platform around the middle, and further points from Flynn (one free) brought them level at 1-11 to 0-14.
Kildare substitute Mark Sherry missed a glorious chance to steal it at the end of normal time - going for goal when he might have been better employed to fist a point - and in extra-time Dublin were just smarter with possession. O'Shea, who wasn't concussed, came back on and grabbed the vital goal, set up by the industrious Howard and substitute Jack Mullins.
In time Kildare might get more out of this team than their rivals will from theirs. But Dublin teams just have winning down to a fine art right now.
Scorers - Dublin: C O'Callaghan 1-7 (5fs), C O'Shea 1-0, G O'Reilly 0-2, C Sallier, A Foley, B Howard, C Basquel, M Cahilan 0-1 each. Kildare: N Flynn 0-10 (5fs, 1 '45), B McCormack 0-5, C Healy, P Connell 0-1 each.
Dublin - L Molloy; E Smith, S McMahon, D Monaghan; C O'Shea, B Howard, M Cahilan; A Foley, D McIlghorm; K Deeley, C Basquel, G O'Reilly; C Sallier, C O'Callaghan, D Spillane. Subs: S Clayton for O'Shea (inj, 4), A Elliott for McIlghorm (inj, 14), K O'Doherty for Foley blood (25-29), E Murchan for Monaghan (h-t), P Small for Spillane (h-t), M Deegan for Elliott (46), C O'Shea for Sallier (start of extra-time), K Doherty for O'Reilly (68), D Spillane for Murchan (75), T O'Sullivan for Smith (79).
Kildare - D Campbell; E Bateman, D Maguire, P Mescal; R Houlihan, B Byrne, S Ryan; L Flynn, P Connell; C Hartley, C Kavanagh, C McMonagle; B McCormack, C Healy, N Flynn. Subs: M Hyland for Byrne (27), R Feely for Hartley (38), M Sherry for McMonagle (42), C Scanlon for Healy (53), B Kelly for Scanlon (start of extra-time), Scanlon for McCormack (68), D Malone for Maguire (75), C Healy for Feely (79).
Ref - J Hickey (Carlow)