Dublin 2-17 Kildare 2-10
Brian Fenton gave a midfield masterclass, hitting 1-3 from play as reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin overcame a sloppy start to easily put Kildare to the sword and get 2018 off to a winning start at Croke Park last night.
Jim Gavin's side were uncharacteristically off-colour in the opening exchanges but, led by Fenton and his Raheny club-mate Brian Howard, the Dubs kicked on in the second half to leave the chasing pack in no doubt about their rude health ahead of their trip to Tyrone next Saturday.
Neil Flynn, who would hobble off with a hamstring injury just two minutes later, opened the scoring inside 30 seconds with a free after good work from Daniel Flynn as the Lilywhites were first to settle.
There were clear signs of ring rust from Dublin - who played a skeleton side in the O'Byrne Cup and are only recently back from their team holiday in South Africa - in the early stages with a string of rare errors.
Within five minutes a Stephen Cluxton kick-out was turned over after a Michael Darragh Macauley fumble while the usually reliable Dean Rock blazed a routine free wide and Jonny Cooper misplaced a simple pass out of defence.
Cian O'Neill's Kildare took advantage in the ninth minute when a skewed shot at goal from Paul Cribbin was misjudged by Cluxton and the Dublin defence. It looked to be drifting wide but Luke Flynn gambled and expertly collected before slotting to the net in front of a shocked Hill 16.
It was 11 minutes before Dublin broke their duck with Rock slotting over a free and there were signs that the reigning All-Ireland champions were getting into their stride as Ciarán Kilkenny began to pull the strings from centre-forward.
Niall Scully fired over a fine point before Castleknock dynamo Kilkenny kicked over with his left and they were level midway through the half, 1-1 to 0-4, when Rock duly pointed after a penetrating run from Kilkenny earned a free.
The game was now being played on Dublin's terms with Bernard Brogan's first meaningful involvement yielding a sweet left-footed effort in the 20th minute.
Daniel Flynn was a constant threat at the other end, however, and after winning a free which Kevin Feely converted, the Johnstownbridge full-forward blazed over after showing a clean pair of heels to David Byrne.
Kilkenny responded with a superb point from distance to level before Paul Cribbin and Brian Fenton traded fine scores at either end but it was all Kildare until the half-time whistle as they kept the Dublin attack scoreless until the break.
Colm Basquel was caught napping when waiting for a pass on the Kildare '65 and the ball ended up in Daniel Flynn's hands. Flynn strode forward but with the goal at his mercy his rising shot tipped the crossbar and went over with just Cluxton to beat.
Mark Donnellan came up from the Kildare goal to expertly point a free from distance in what was the last score before half-time but there was plenty of needle with a minor shemozzle before the half was out as Kildare showed their intent and led by 1-6 to 0-7.
That fight was quickly drained out, however, and it was the Fenton show upon the resumption as the man of the match strode forward to kick two fine points to level as the Dubs stifled Donnellan's restarts and began to totally monopolise possession. Scully and Rock were both off target with the goal at their mercy but Howard - making his first league start - kicked a super point as Gavin's men went into overdrive.
The writing was on the wall for the Lilies and within 60 seconds their defence had been breached twice as Brogan brilliantly played the link man with two deft touches to set up expertly-taken goals by Rock and Fenton.
By the 50th minute they had a double-scores lead as Basquel, one of the few players to impress in their O'Byrne Cup campaign, and Scully tagged on points to make it 2-12 to 1-6.
It was 16 minutes into the new half before Feely tapped over a free to get Kildare's first score but it was quickly business as usual at the other end with Basquel and Small firing over fine efforts.
Howard enhanced his growing reputation with another point before substitute Eamonn Callaghan offered some brief respite with two placed balls but Kevin McManamon made his usual impact off the bench to fire over while Basquel added his third.
O'Neill's side registered no point from play in the closing 35 minutes but Daniel Flynn did give them something to smile about with an injury-time goal when neatly slotting past Cluxton to close out what was an ominous start to the year for the Dubs in front of a crowd of 26,027.
Scorers - Dublin: B Fenton 1-3, D Rock 1-2 (0-2f), C Basquel 0-3, C Kilkenny, B Howard and N Scully 0-2 each, B Brogan, J Small and K McManamon 0-1 each. Kildare: D Flynn 1-2, E Callaghan 0-3f, L Flynn 1-0, K Feely (2f) 0-2, P Cribbin, M Donnellan (f) and N Flynn (f) 0-1 each.
Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, D Byrne, D Daly; J McCarthy, J Cooper, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; B Howard, C Kilkenny, N Scully; D Rock, C Basquel, B Brogan. Subs: Kevin McManamon for Macauley (46), E Lowndes for Cooper (50), P Mannion for Rock and P McMahon for Fitzsimons (both 55), C O'Shea for Daly (59), P Andrews for Brogan (60).
Kildare: M Donnellan; D Hyland, P Kelly, M O'Grady; J Byrne, E Doyle, C O'Donoghue; K Feely, L Flynn; F Conway, C Healy, P Cribbin; N Flynn, D Flynn, C McNally. Subs: D Slattery for N Flynn (4) inj, N Kelly for Healy (20 black card), T Moolick for Conway (51), B McCormack for L Flynn (56), M Hyland for Kelly and E Callaghan for Feely (both 61).
Referee: C Lane (Cork)
Sunday Indo Sport