Dubs stride on as Lilies seek answers to Croker curse
JOHNNY DOYLE was in no hurry to hang around. It just felt like one huddle too many in these circumstances, one more bad Croke Park experience that he couldn't bring himself to linger for.
At 35 years of age and 13 seasons with his county behind him, Johnny was entitled to the fastest possible exit.
After four successive wins over the four previous All-Ireland champions, he was entitled to feel that days like this were behind him in the twilight of his career.
So he made smartly down the tunnel as the rest of a chastened Kildare squad locked arms for their ritual debrief. Their faces in that moment said it all.
What could Kieran McGeeney say against a background of a 13-point defeat that had so many similarities to their 2-19 to 0-12 loss to Cork in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final?
"Keep their heads up, basically, these things happen in football. It's not the first time... Dublin have been on the receiving end of a few of those too. It happens everybody. That's what happens, especially in league football," he reflected.
Except the sense of deja vu from August will have been all too palpable. When it goes wrong on this Kildare team it can go badly wrong.
The steps forward they had taken in the early part of the season felt like they had been wiped out yesterday evening.
Maybe that sense will change with the realisation that Dublin may have moved a step ahead of everyone else in Division 1, especially in Croke Park on these Spring Series afternoons and evenings, on which they have lost just once in 10 outings.
But after keeping things tight and compact in their opening three league games, Kildare collapsed here to a team energised by their manager's command to "express themselves as footballers".
Jim Gavin's Dublin teams are going to concede more than those of his predecessor Pat Gilroy, especially in Gilroy's middle two years. But the level of firepower they have now will make them very difficult to contain over a 70-minute plus stretch, especially at the pace they played at and support they provided for each other yesterday.
Four weekends into the 2013 season and there is already a very clear front-runner.
Kildare can reflect on some success in pinning Bernard Brogan down and making life difficult for him after his recent rampant form, but cracks appeared everywhere else that others were only too happy to exploit.
Paul Flynn was dominant on breaking ball; Ciaran Kilkenny finished with four points; Peadar Andrews with two; Diarmuid Connolly sliced over two off the outside of his left foot into the wind in the first half that were among the more sublime moments, while Jack McCaffrey poured forward for a goal and a point. Football just looks so easy to this young man.
The progression of Dublin under Gavin is best reflected by Andrews and Johnny Cooper. Neither cut it under Gilroy when their talent suggested they should have. But the new man has set them free.
When the opportunity arose, defenders had licence to attack as part of their brief, a clear policy change under Gavin.
"First of all they are all good footballers, all have very good game intelligence, they can all read the play and they know when to push up and sit back. We give the guys a framework to work in, to play within; they need to express themselves as footballers as well," said the manager.
McGeeney admitted some sympathy for his defence, especially in the second half when Kildare struggled to move possession into enemy territory. Playing behind such a badly beaten midfield makes for long afternoons at any level. In Croke Park, it is so much more acute.
"Our biggest problem was break ball and kick-outs. I think Dublin won twice as many of our kick-outs than we did and break ball, we just didn't seem to get our hands on any," he lamented.
"We lost a lot of balls in the tackle, did a lot of silly things with it, even fist-passing the ball away. We just couldn't get an outlet from our defence and constantly put ourselves under pressure, so you would have to give Dublin all the credit for that."
Both Dublin goals came courtesy of Kildare losing possession as they came out of defence. Flynn robbed his namesake Daniel to ignite the move for McCaffrey's goal on 46 minutes before Eamonn Callaghan's misdirected handpass on 59 minutes was punished within seconds as Brogan slid a shot beneath Shane Connolly.
Dublin did much of the hard work against the wind in the opening half, coming from two points down (1-6 to 0-7) on 28 minutes to lead by 0-11 to 1-6 at the break.
Those eight minutes decided this result, the first three minutes after the restart decided the range of the margin as Kevin McManamon – an interval substitute – kicked two points within a minute of his arrival before setting up Flynn. For good measure Flynn then laid on the pass for McCaffrey's point for a six-point lead. By then the game had lost any intrigue it had.
That Kildare couldn't get a foothold at all will really perplex them. The mistakes that progressively infiltrated their game as confidence drained looked like a meltdown at times.
McGeeney, who rested Niall Kelly and only introduced Daniel Flynn in the second half after their midweek U-21 exploits, was careful not to concede too much ground on the nature of the defeat and the impact it may have. But, with a likely Leinster semi-final against Dublin looming in June, it has to be significant.
"I can't say that today, obviously I'd be disappointed. That is the benchmark in Leinster for all of us who are sort of chasing Dublin. Looking at today we have a fair bit of work to do," he said.
Gavin dismissed the suggestion afterwards that Dublin may be hitting extreme heights too early in the season.
"I haven't met that team yet! Or managed that team yet. The guys are working very hard on the training ground, and to get that type of performance is satisfying," he said.
"But knowing the players the way they are, they'll do a lot of inward looking now, this evening, tomorrow, and they'll review the game. They're driving the standards. There's a great energy amongst them."
His captain Stephen Cluxton, rested as Shane Supple deputised and spilled a Doyle free that led to Seanie Johnston's first-half goal, warned against the dangers of growing confidence being replaced by arrogance. "You have to make sure that it's not an arrogance, that it's not breeding arrogance, that it's just confidence.
"And if they concentrate on the bedrock which is work rate – what Jim is looking for – then I don't have a problem with that."
Man of the match: P Flynn (Dublin)
SCORERS – Dublin: B Brogan 1-5 (0-4f), C Kilkenny 0-4, J McCaffrey 1-1, P Andrews 0-3, K McManamon, D Connolly 0-2, P Flynn, D Daly, P Ryan 0-1 each. Kildare: S Johnston 1-2 (0-1f), E Bolton 1-1, B Flanagan, E O'Flaherty, J Doyle, M Conway (f) 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: S Supple 6; K O'Brien 6, R O'Carroll 8, J Cooper 8; J McCaffrey 9, C O'Sullivan 8, D Daly 8; MD Macauley 5, D O'Mahony 7; P Flynn 9, C Kilkenny 8, D Connolly 8; P Andrews 8, B Brogan 7, C Reddin 5. Subs: D Bastick 7 for Macauley (h-t), K McManamon 8 for Reddin (h-t), B Cullen 6 for Kilkenny (52), C Guckian 6 for Daly (56), P Ryan 7 for O'Mahony (60).
KILDARE: S Connolly 8; H McGrillen 6, O Lyons 7, P Kelly 5; M Foley 5, E Doyle 6, E Bolton 7; J Doyle 5, P O'Neill 6; M Conway 4, E O'Flaherty 5, B Flanagan 6; S Johnston 6, T O'Connor 5, C McNally 4. Subs: M O'Flaherty 5 for Conway (26), H Lynch 4 for McNally (38), D Flynn 6 for Flanagan (41), E Callaghan for O'Neill (49), R Sweeney 5 for O'Connor (56).
REF – J McQuillan (Cavan)