Dubs blow Derry away to make it four titles on trot
Dublin 3-19 Derry 1-10 (Allianz NFL Div 1 Final)
Dublin scripted their way neatly into the record books, won their fourth big final in a year and flashed out the clearest of messages that their graph in nowhere near its peak.
A highly satisfactory day's work in Croke Park, then, for a Dublin squad that became the first from the county to win the league title in successive seasons. They did it by reaching a level of efficiency which Derry never came close to figuring out, let along counteracting.
The day went from bad to worse to awful for Derry, who had frustration piled on misery, ultimately leading to the ignominy of conceding the highest score in a league final since Kerry scored 4-16 in 1961. Sadly for Derry, they were the victims on that occasion too.
Dublin's winning margin should have been considerably higher but their accuracy let them down in the second half when they kicked 12 wides, bringing their total to 17.
In contrast, Derry shot three wides, a further indication of the possession differential which existed on a day when 10 Dublin players (five of the starting forwards, a defender, the goalkeeper and three subs) all scored.
Also, goalkeeper Thomas Mallon was one of Derry's better players so if it's all fed into the possibility mix, it would have been no great surprise if Dublin finished on at least 5-30.
Not that they will be complaining with a 3-19 return, especially since it was delivered against a Derry side that beat them by six points in the group clash last month.
However, as Derry discovered with maximum pain, there's a massive difference between playing Dublin in Celtic Park in mid-March and in Croke Park in late April when a national title awaits.
Indeed, such was the scale of Derry's demolition that they might have been better off if they had lost the semi-final to Mayo. That may sound defeatist but with their Ulster championship opener against Donegal only four weeks away, losing a league final by 15 points has to have a negative impact.
Manager Brian McIver must work quickly to reboot their confidence, which took an unmerciful beating yesterday.
Losing to omni-talented rivals is one thing, but being swept aside so easily will surely gnaw away at Derry's self-belief, however hard they talk up the positives from the earlier league games.
Quite how corrosive the impact of such a dreadful experience will prove remains to be seen but there has to be a worry that it will rock foundations which had been so carefully laid over the last 14 months as the squad worked its way diligently through Divisions 2 and 1.
The Derry attack, which had proved so productive throughout the league, collapsed completely, even after getting an early boost when Emmet McGuckin played Cailean O'Boyle in for a goal in the fourth minute.
It put Derry two points clear and would have been expected to help settle them into a progressive routine. Instead, Derry didn't score again for 22 minutes, which stage Dublin had added nine points.
It was evident at that stage that Dublin were on their way to a comfortable win, a target which they duly reached without ever being stretched to full capacity.
The extent of Derry's attacking problems was underlined by the final tally from their six starting forwards which reached only 1-5. The rest came from half-backs Gerard O'Kane (0-2), Kevin Johnson and Kevin Johnston, midfielder Fergal Doherty and sub Emmet Bradley.
Mark Lynch had been Derry's main driving influence in their impressive march to the final but made no real impact yesterday, falling victim to the close marking of Johnny Cooper, who switched out from corner-back to track Lynch.
With Lynch failing to make an impact – especially in the first half – Derry's attacking axis veered off-track. Meanwhile, at the other end, Bernard Brogan and Eoghan O'Gara were the lead acts as Dublin weaved the prettiest of patterns.
By half-time, Dublin were seven points clear (0-13 to 1-3) on the scoreboard but, in real terms, they were much further ahead, having dominated across every line.
Derry pared two points off the lead early in the second half but that was as good as it got for them.
Brogan whipped in Dublin's first goal in the 42nd minute, sub Kevin McManamon, who finished the campaign as Dublin's top scorer on 3-17, added a second goal in the 58th minute and Diarmuid Connolly completed the demolition with a third goal in the final minute.
Referee Cormac Reilly played only 10 seconds of stoppage-time, a merciful gesture towards a Derry team, for whom the final whistle brought a welcome end to the relentless torture.
Dublin would have happily played on until darkness fell, controlling as they went, all the time flashing out warning signals to potential opponents everywhere that their determination to dominate the landscape for the foreseeable future is unyielding.
In an attacking sense, Dublin really are awesome, with so many options available to Jim Gavin that he could probably use quite a few combinations without reducing the threat.
U-21 stars Paul Mannion and Cormac Costello weren't even in the squad yesterday, instead preparing for next Saturday's All-Ireland final clash with Roscommon.
The only question marks against Dublin are in defence, where they are vulnerable at times to quick, direct ball. Derry didn't have enough possession to make that an issue yesterday but others will.
However, if Dublin maintain their current strike rate (they hit Cork and Derry for a total of 5-39 in two weeks) it's difficult to see how they can be blocked in their drive to retain the All-Ireland title for the first time since 1977.
The pace, movement and general creativity of the attack creates so many pressure points for defences that they eventually crumble. Derry were in trouble right from the off yesterday, standing too far off their opponents and not getting in effective tackles.
Still, Derry are better than they looked, which suggests that the big occasion may have got to them.
Several of the men who had played so well en route to the final failed to impose themselves on the action, allowing Dublin to seize – and retain – the momentum.
Conceding an early goal proved no more than a minor irritant to Dublin as they powered through the gears so smoothly that Derry were left trailing in the distance.
Yet, this was largely the same side that beat Dublin by six points in mid-March, so the question arises as to how they could be comprehensively out-classed.
McIver and his co-strategists will be looking for quick answers after enduring a truly horrendous experience. On a day when consolation wasn't readily available, they will probably find some in the fact that Donegal, whom they meet in the Ulster quarter-final on May 25, turned in an indifferent performance in the Division 2 final.
Luckily for Donegal, they were playing Monaghan, not Dublin.
Scorers – Dublin: B Brogan 1-6 (0-3fs), D Connolly 1-2, P Flynn 0-3, K McManamon 1-0, A Brogan, E O'Gara 0-2 each, J Cooper, S Cluxton (f), D Nelson, C Reddin 0-1 each. Derry: C O'Boyle 1-1, E McGuckin, G O'Kane, M Lynch 0-2 each, E Bradley (f), K Johnston, F Doherty 0-1 each.
Dublin – S Cluxton 7; P McMahon 7, R O'Carroll 7, J Cooper 8; J McCarthy 7, N Devereux 7, K Nolan 7; MD Macauley 8, C O'Sullivan 7; P Flynn 8, P Andrews 5, D Connolly 7; A Brogan 7, E O'Gara 9, B Brogan 9. Subs: K McManamon 7 for Andrews (29), D Byrne 6 for Nolan (45), M Fitzsimons 6 for O'Carroll (60), C Reddin 7 for O'Gara (61), D Nelson for O'Sullivan (63), T Brady for A Brogan (67).
Derry – T Mallon 7; O Duffy 5, C McKaigue 5, D McBride 5; K Johnston 6, G O'Kane 6, A McAlynn 5; F Doherty 5, P Bradley 5; E Lynn 5, M Lynch 5, C McFaul 5; B Heron 5, E McGuckin 6, C O'Boyle 6. Subs: C McAtamney 5 for McAlynn (32), E Bradley 5 for Heron (32), D Brown 6 for Duffy (51, BC), M Craig for Johnston (66), N Holly for Lynn (66).
Ref – C Reilly (Meath)