Leinster SFC semi-final: Dublin 1-27 Meath 1-14
Forget the scoreline above and reflect instead on how it was when this Leinster semi-final was still remotely a contest in the first half.
From 18 shots, Dublin landed 17 points. They were ruthless, efficient, precise, clinical. Choose any words you like from that selection to capture it because by any measure, irrespective of opposition, that’s some efficiency.
Inevitably they got sloppy after that. Which team wouldn’t given the environment that prevailed? The crowd, 38,081 between the two games (Kildare and Westmeath beforehand) had long since disengaged and it played out with a hum that is all too familiar now with these provincial days when Dublin do what they do.
They knew the game was won against opponents that have never really given them trouble, certainly in a recent context, save for a few fleeting moments in the corresponding game last year.
But when there was business to tend to they were mightily impressive, notwithstanding the paucity of the challenge they met, devoid of any real physical element.
All-Ireland champions in the making? They are certainly moving better than they were at the same stage last year and any of those authoritative predictions about their demise are on shakier ground now. They’re right in the mix, irrespective of clearly weaker reserve strength than before.
True, this followed a similar pattern to the 2021 semi-final. Then Meath trailed by 11 and eventually lost by six, having got it down to three at one stage. This time they were 15 adrift at half-time, a margin that stretched to 17 before finally coming back to 13.
But starting to play a bit when the game is gone has become an all too familiar trait of this Meath team when it comes to Dublin over the last three seasons. No one will take any comfort from ‘winning’ a second half for the second successive year. It’s a false premise.
Meath needed to come with something different. But first they had to bring confrontation and desire and there was never enough of that.
Early on Ronan Jones put in a great ball that left Jordan Morris one-on-one with Mick Fitzsimons. But Fitzsimons was able to shepherd Morris on to his right and the shot, off his weaker side, trickled wide at the far post.
Dublin were two points up at that stage, a goal might have shifted the dynamic just a little for Meath but instead they succumbed and the scars of so many previous losses to Dublin – for some going back almost a decade now – quickly resurfaced.
Dublin effortlessly moved through the gears and the Meath full-back line was in real trouble, first Cormac Costello and then Con O’Callaghan leaving their markers, Eoin Harkin and Robin Clarke, in a spin.
They had little protection as Meath manager Andy McEntee observed afterwards. “They were pretty ruthless. The guys on the inside line, I wouldn’t be blaming them too much. The ball coming in was just too good.
"There was too much time on the ball outfield, we weren’t applying enough pressure, there wasn’t a physical edge to our game. There was very little about the first-half that you would be happy with really,” he said, unsure as to why that could be the case.
“It’s an unforgiving place out there, it’s very public. If things start going wrong against you or don’t start right then a game can go away from you very, very quickly, especially against a team of that quality.”
It took until the 22nd minute for Dublin to register a wide, their only one of the half, through Brian Fenton. By then they were 0-11 to 0-4 clear and cruising. On 30 minutes Dean Rock added a penalty Harkin had dragged down O’Callaghan.
From outside, Ciaran Kilkenny pummelled Meath with his clever movement, clipping over three first-half points, five overall, while Lorcan O’Dell’s first championship start was marked by two points and a real spark that has given him the nod over Templeogue/Synge St club-mate Niall Scully.
Nothing reflected Dublin’s championship renewal more than the movement and competitiveness of James McCarthy, not just for his two first-half points but for countless timely interventions he made. The new captain has the bit between his teeth again, ominous for everyone else.
For Farrell there was acknowledgement that they are ahead of where they were this time last year but a concession too that such a standing, based on results, can be “fickle.”
Still, the performance from the forwards particularly pleased him. “The league was bitterly disappointing for us. There was plenty of time to reflect on where we’re at and what we need to do. From that perspective it’s good to see two consistent performances put back-to-back.”
Under McEntee Meath have now lost to Dublin by 16, 21 and 13 points. In between there was last year’s six-point defeat while the previous management experienced seven, 16- and 10-point losses. It feels like an ever-decreasing circle for them.
Late on there were three red cards, one for Fitzsimons, a black for hauling down Matthew Costello for a late penalty that Morris converted and two for Meath, Jack Flynn for a high challenge on Jonny Cooper and Morris for pushing his marker Lee Gannon aggressively into the chest.
McEntee was right beside that last incident and reckoned that while there had been “ill-discipline” Gannon “goes down like he’s been shot and the referee buys that”.
But frustration in Meath was everywhere by that stage, the recurring theme of these days all too apparent.
It won’t be lost on them that the three goal chances they created, including the penalty, all came from ambitious balls into the danger zone, the impressive Costello setting up Morris in the second half too. But for too long there was reluctance to follow that path.
Where does the likes of Donal Keogan and Bryan Menton, scorer of three points from midfield, go from here? Appetite for qualifiers can’t be great in the knowledge that more days like this may lay ahead.
Farrell welcomed the prospect of Kildare in 12 days’ time, a third Leinster final (minor and U-20) between these counties in 2022, and suggested a “lot of relevance” to their league defeat in Newbridge at the end of February to this fixture.
But Dublin just feel like a different team now, one with their enthusiasm for the game most definitely renewed. Not what the rest will want to hear.
Scorers – Dublin: D Rock 1-8 (1-0 pen, 5f, 1 ‘45), C Kilkenny 0-5, C Costello 0-3, C O’Callaghan, T Lahiff, L O’Dell, J McCarthy all 0-2 each, S Bugler, B Howard, P Small (m) all 0-1 each. Meath: J Morris 1-3 (1-0 pen, 0-2f) B Menton, J O’Connor (2f) 0-3 each, J Wallace, T O’Reilly, S McEntee, J Flynn, D Keogan all 0-1 each.
Dublin – E Comerford 7: E Murchan 7, M Fitzsimons 7, L Gannon 7; J Small 7, B Howard 7, J McCarthy 8; B Fenton 7, T Lahiff 7; S Bugler 7, L O’Dell 7, C Kilkenny 8; C Costello 8, D Rock 7, C O’Callaghan 8. Subs: J Cooper 6 for Murchan (50), N Scully 6 for O Dell (55), P Small 6 for O’Callaghan (55), S Clayton for Fenton (62), B O’Leary for Costello (67).
Meath – H Hogan 6; E Harkin 5, C McGill 6, R Clarke 5; D Keogan 6, R Ryan 4, J McEntee 4; B Menton 7, R Jones 6; C O’Sullivan 5, T O’Reilly 5, J O’Connor 6; J Morris 5, M Costello 7, J Wallace 6. Subs: C Hickey 6 for McEntee (h-t), S Walsh 5 for O’Reilly (h-t), S McEntee 6 for Ryan (h-t), J Flynn 6 for Jones (43), B McMahon 5 for O’Sullivan (58).
Ref – D O’Mahoney (Tipperary).
Man of the Match
James McCarthy (Dublin)
Nothing reflects Dublin’s championship renewal more than McCarthy in full flow here. He surged forward for two points but it was the freedom of his movement and his competitiveness that placed him just ahead of Ciarán Kilkenny.
Dublin have rediscovered some of their old zest over the last two weekends, no doubt about that – with 17 points from 18 first-half shots an impressive haul. Meath, on the other hand, are just as far away from making inroads on them as they have been at any stage in the last decade.
Matthew Costello’s long ball over the top for Jordan Morris in the 49th minute. It created a goal chance but Morris spurned it.
Wides – Dublin 3 (2 in first half);
Meath 10 (6)
Yellow cards – Dublin 3 (Cormac Costello 48, Paddy Small 65, Mick Fitzsimons 66); Meath 3 (Joey Wallace 15, Donal Keogan 44, Jordan Morris 62)
Black cards – Dublin 1 (Fitzsimons 71)
Red cards – Dublin 1 (Fitzsimons 71);
Meath 2 (Jack Flynn 68, Jordan Morris 74)
Dublin play Kildare in the Leinster final on Saturday, May 28, Meath are into the first round of qualifiers on June 3/4.
The All-Ireland football championship will take a more straightforward path with no need for preliminary first-round qualifiers after Kildare’s Leinster semi-final win over Westmeath.
Kildare’s win, following Limerick’s triumph over Tipperary in the Munster semi-final, ensures each of the eight provincial finalists will be Division 1 and 2 teams with the remaining eight teams from the top divisions involved in round one of the qualifiers.
The first-round qualifier draw will take place next Monday with Mayo, Tyrone, Armagh, Cork, Clare, Louth, Meath and Monaghan involved.
There will now be a requirement for two preliminary rounds in the Tailteann Cup before the first round proper and both games will involve teams from the south section because New York were drawn on that side.
That leaves nine south teams with a requirement to pare it down to six as New York are already guaranteed a quarter-final place.
The Tailteann Cup preliminary rounds will involve four teams from Wicklow, Waterford, Wexford, Laois, Offaly and Carlow, with the winners joining Tipperary and Westmeath in the first round proper. The north section of this morning’s Tailteann Cup draw will include Antrim, Down, Cavan, Fermanagh, London, Longford, Sligo and Leitrim.