Saturday 24 August 2019

Dubs' second-half surge devastates sorry Royals

Dublin 1-17  Meath 0-4

Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan is fouled by Meath’s Conor McGill resulting in a penalty during yesterday’s Leinster SFC final. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan is fouled by Meath’s Conor McGill resulting in a penalty during yesterday’s Leinster SFC final. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

This had nothing to do with Dublin's advantages in drawing from a population of 1.4 million people, enjoying large financial investment or being more accustomed to playing in Croke Park, but rather with Meath's failure to reach anything like the heights required in a provincial final.

Even if they got everything 100 per cent correct, it's unlikely they would have beaten possibly the greatest team in football history, but they would at least have given themselves a chance of remaining competitive.

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts the Delaney Cup. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts the Delaney Cup. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Instead, they made so many mistakes in aspects of play where efficiency should be taken for granted at this level. It left them easy prey for Dublin in a second half where Meath were outscored by 1-12 to 0-3.

Even more embarrassing stats showed that Meath scored the lowest of any team in the 46 games to date in this year's championship, while their 0-4 was the worst return in a Leinster final since Laois lost to Dublin 0-10 to 0-4 in 1985.

Having been promoted to Division 1 for the first time in 13 years last March and reached the Leinster final for the first time since 2014, there was a sense in Meath that they were ready to offer a decent challenge.

Only misguided optimists thought they might win, but there was still much for the Royals to gain if they delivered a good performance.

Cormac Costello of Dublinis tackled by Conor McGill of Meath. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Cormac Costello of Dublinis tackled by Conor McGill of Meath. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

It would have set them up nicely for the Round 4 qualifier where the prize for a win is a place in the 'Super 8s' along with Kerry, Donegal and another Round 4 winner.

It's still achievable, but Andy McEntee will need to produce a masterful lesson in psychological re-programming to get the squad right for the weekend after next.

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Coping with the deflating impact of a 16-point defeat is only part of the problem they face. There's also the regret at failing to do themselves justice by not taking their own game anywhere near where they wanted it to be.

With Dublin strangely lethargic in the first half, Meath had openings to assert themselves, but they failed to take them. They ended the half four points adrift (0-5 to 0-1) after wasting some excellent chances.

Ciaran Kilkenny of Dublin in action against Graham Reilly of Meath. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Ciaran Kilkenny of Dublin in action against Graham Reilly of Meath. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Ben Brennan was off target with two relatively simple frees; Mickey Newman missed a long-range effort; Cillian O'Sullivan hit the post; Graham Reilly over-hit a free designed to drop the ball over the Dublin full-back line while a few efforts dropped short into Stephen Cluxton's hands.

None of that had anything to do with Dublin, but everything to do with Meath's basic skills letting them down. It continued into the second half when Reilly fired wide in the opening seconds, followed by another missed free from Brennan, who was replaced almost immediately by Seán Tobin.

Technically, Meath were still in contention, but even they must have known it couldn't last. Dublin had operated several gears below full speed, but were never going to remain there.

Gradually, they powered up and with Meath's confidence ebbing away with each passing minute, there was an ominous change of dynamic. From being six points ahead after 50 minutes, Dublin scored an unanswered 1-8, the goal coming from Con O'Callaghan in the 68th minute.

Paul Mannion of Dublin in action against Shane McEntee of Meath. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Paul Mannion of Dublin in action against Shane McEntee of Meath. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

A classic example of the riches at Jim Gavin's disposal was the performance of Dean Rock after he replaced Brian Howard in the 51st minute.

Rock had watched Cormac Costello slot expertly into the free-taking role in recent games so when he got his chance, he knew he had to make an impression in open play.

He did it in style, scoring three excellent points from play and one from a free after Costello was replaced by Kevin McManamon. Rock had a clear goal chance in stoppage time, but dragged his shot wide.

It was a real let-off for Meath, who also had a lucky escape in the 26th minute of the first half when Paul Mannion's penalty drive hit the post.

The miscue was in keeping with Dublin's general play in the first half, lacking in the poise and precision we have come to expect of them.

Jim Gavin is, no doubt, applying a wide range of anti-complacency techniques, but it must still be very difficult for the players to banish the feeling that, all going well, they will win most games easily. That makes it imperative for opponents to get the most out of them themselves, which Meath did not do yesterday.

Newman was the only forward to score from play, while midfielder Bryan Menton was the only other scorer. That contrasts with Dublin, who had ten different scorers, drawn from all over the place.

Despite that, Gavin will have concerns over their first-half performance, where all five points were scored between the 11th and 24th minutes.

That left 22 barren minutes, a period when they would have been punished if Meath's attacking game were better. The high-tempo approach, which has been such an integral part of Dublin's game, was missing and their passing often lacked accuracy, especially the deliveries into the full-forward-line.

It offered Meath a chance to add to Dublin's discomfort, but instead they had their own problems, which remained unresolved.

Having hit Carlow and Laois for a combined total of 5-31 in their last two games, the Meath attack should have been high on confidence, but it certainly didn't look that way. And once Brennan hit the post with an early free and Newman kicked wide from the rebound, the malaise set in.

Playing Dublin, whom they haven't beaten in the championship since 2010, may have caused the stress which forced them into errors, but now the question is what damage has it done. The answer will emerge on the weekend after next.

As for Dublin, it's on to the 'Super 8s' with confidence running high.

Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-4 (1f); C O'Callaghan 1-0; C Costello (2f, 1'65'), P Mannion 0-3 each; J McCaffrey 0-2; C Kilkenny, B Howard, P McMahon, B Fenton, P Andrews 0-1 each. Meath: M Newman 0-3 (1f); B Menton 0-1.

Dublin - S Cluxton 7; P McMahon 8, M Fitzsimons 7, J McCaffrey 8; D Byrne 7, C O'Sullivan 7, J Small 7; B Fenton 8, J McCarthy 6; N Scully 7, C Kilkenny 8, B Howard 7; C Costello 7, P Mannion 9, C O'Callaghan 7. Subs: MD Macauley 7 for McCarthy (32), D Rock 8 for Howard (51), K McManamon 6 for Costello (58), P Small for Kilkenny (61), P Andrews for P Small (64), R O'Carroll for McCaffrey (67).

Meath - A Colgan 6; S Lavin 7, C McGill 7, S Gallagher 6; J McEntee 5, D Keogan 6, R Ryan 5; B Menton 5, S McEntee 5; C O'Sullivan 5, B McMahon 5, G Reilly 5; B Brennan 5, J Conlon 5, M Newman 7. Subs: S Tobin 6 for Brennan (38), E Devine 5 for Reilly (40), T O'Reilly 5 for Conlon (53), B Dardis 5 S McEntee (58), S Curran for Gallagher (65), T McGovern for McMahon (65).

Ref - S Hurson (Tyrone)

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