Saturday 20 January 2018

Eugene McGee: Meath's half-measure not enough to knock champs off their perch

Meath's Mickey Newman in action against Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Meath's Mickey Newman in action against Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

For the first half in yesterday's Leinster semi-final there must have been hope around the football world that maybe, just maybe, the word invincible could no longer be attached to the Dublin football team.

At that time the score was Dublin 0-11 Meath 0-9 and the Royals were giving Dublin a bellyful, like in the old days. Meath contested every ball, never pulled out of a tackle, and seemed to have started the long-awaited revival of Meath football.

At midfield, whenever the ball did land in that area, it was Meath players who won possession but one fatal flaw in the Meath make-up was the concession of short kick-outs to Dublin by Stephen Cluxton, particularly in the first half. It cost them dearly.

In the 23rd minute, a short Cluxton kick-out went straight down the field, untouched by a Meath player, to Diarmuid Connolly who kicked an easy point and amazingly, a couple of minutes later another such kick-out eventually arrived down to Connolly who lofted over another point.

Short kick-outs, like all modern tactics, have their use but for a Meath football team to concede possession of the ball unchallenged time after time is a fundamental change of attitude for that county. At the other end Paddy O'Rourke generally opted for the traditional long kick-out and Meath did quite well in those contests and indeed the Dublin pairing of Denis Bastick and Brian Fenton made little impression in that first half.

As always, Jim Gavin moved decisively at half-time to rectify the midfield position by bringing in Michael Dara Macauley for the second half and from there on Meath simply lost their way and were little more than cannon fodder for the second period.

Ten points to three in the second half tells its own story as Dublin cruised to victory with nonchalant ease and the hope of a Meath revival at this level died a death.

Dublin simply upped the ante for the second half and there was no response from Meath. So the utter domination of Dublin in Leinster remains in place and will do so again when they play Westmeath in the final.

For those who lament some of the great skills of the game that have all but disappeared under modern training regimes, it was delightful to watch the wonderful free-taking off the ground by Meath's Michael Newman (right), who landed three great scores like that in the first half.

That was the highlight of an excellent first-half performance by Meath and it was such a pity that they failed to up their game when Dublin put on the pressure. Meath's indiscipline proved costly too, as shown by their concession of a staggering nine points from frees by Dean Rock. The art of proper tackling, which despite what many 'experts' claim is a great skill, seems to be largely ignored by modern-day managers and coaches and those teams that do attend to that skill do very well because of it. I believe the last time a Division 4 team played in a Leinster final was Offaly, who actually won the title in 1987 but Westmeath will not worry about that as they revel in another barnstorming performance in Croke Park by demolishing Kildare easier than the scoreline suggested yesterday and for the first time in their history reached two successive finals in the province.

For a long time the game was boring in the extreme but when the play opened up in the second quarter it turned into a very entertaining contest, proving again that quality football need not be a requisite for entertainment if a game is full of effort and laced with some excellent individual scores.

Not for the first time in their recent history, Kildare will wonder how they managed to lose this one when they led by 1-9 to 0-6 in the 42nd minute.

But then came a disastrous period for the Lilywhites as they went an astonishing 28 minutes without scoring, even though they were retaining lots of possession. The reason was simple - Westmeath decided to dig in, tear up the script and go hell for leather with all-out attack in a game that previously had been dominated by silly use of sweepers at both ends.

That brought a barrage of scores, 1-6 in all, that left Westmeath with a three-point cushion and Kildare's late rally fell short.

The road back for Kildare will not be easy but they have a lot of young talent so patience is important for their fans, a commodity they are not used to.

Irish Independent

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