Friday 18 January 2019

Jack McCaffrey returns as Dublin cruise past Longford but concerns for Stephen Cluxton

Dublin 2-25 Longford 0-12

Jack McCaffrey made his return for Dublin and (inset) Stephen Cluxton is helped of injured
Jack McCaffrey made his return for Dublin and (inset) Stephen Cluxton is helped of injured

Sean McGoldrick

Dublin cruised into their eighth Leinster final on the spin and their 14th in as many years when they crushed Longford in Croke Park.

In two weeks' time the Dubs will face Laois in the provincial decider – the first meeting between the sides in a final since 2007.

This was Dublin's 23rd win on the spin in the Leinster championship which surpasses the 22-match unbeaten record established by the side which went unbeaten in the province between 1974 and 1979.

It also broke a near 99-year-old record established by the famous Wexford four-in-row All-Ireland winning side which went 21 games unbeaten – Dublin have now gone 22 matches unbeaten in the All-Ireland series since their last defeat in the 2014 semi-final against Donegal.

There was no shortage of drama in the first half even if the intensity levels never reached championship levels. Though Dublin went three points up in the first four minutes, Longford held their own. Their policy of shooting on sight was working and Robbie Smyth, Michael Quinn and Donal McElligott all hit cracking points from distance.

It was 4-3 after seven minutes, though by the time Smyth converted his first free in the 17th minute it was double scores for Dublin (0-8; 0-4). Corner backs Philip McMahon – who scored Dublin's first point - and Eric Lowndes had a licence to attack and the latter drove a decent goal chance wide in the 18th minute.

Longford goalkeeper Paddy Collum deliberated over all his kick-outs and his first four found their targets, but gradually Dublin turned up the pressure on him.

Immediately after Lowndes had missed his goal chance, Dublin punished the minnows when they turned over a kick-out and Michael Darragh Macauley burst through on the right flank, drew the goalkeeper, before crossing the ball for Dean Rock who palmed it to the net.

Longford's woes increased in the 21st minute when full forward James McGivney was red-carded. He levelled Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton who had advanced to punch a ball clear but McGivney caught him after the ball was gone and was red carded by referee Maurice Deegan.

Cluxton was dazed and after medical treatment the Dublin management decided to 'temporarily' replace him. So for the first time since the 2004 Leinster quarter-final against Westmeath a goalkeeper other than Cluxton played for Dublin in the championship with the current understudy Evan Comerford getting the nod.

No sooner had play resumed that Longford's kick-out woes resumed. Liam Connerton was the recipient of a short kick out from Collum and he was dispossessed by Dean Rock and Paul Mannion nipped in to grab the loose ball and drive it to the net at the Hill 16 end.

For the remainder of the half the two teams shared six points but Dublin, without having ever moved out of second gear, were12 points clear at the break (2-13; 0-7).

Jack McCaffrey was introduced at half time for his first appearance since rupturing the cruciate ligament in his knee in last year's All-Ireland final. On his first possession he took off on one of his trade solo runs along the Cusack Stand side as if to illustrate that he had lost none of his speed.

In general it was a low-key third quarter. Paddy Collum saved a goal-bound shot from Mannion in the 38th minute, but despite being a man short Longford actually took the game to Dublin and Rian Brady's 53rd-minute point meant the underdogs had outscored Dublin 5-3 up until that point in the second period.

Granted, Michael Darragh Macauley had squandered another goal chance for Dublin and Jim Gavin was running his bench with long-term injury absentees Cian O'Sullivan and Paul Flynn making their first championship appearances of the season while another replacement, Colm Basquel, chipped in with two points and missed a goal chance.

Longford suffered another blow in the 55th minute when Michael Quinn was harshly black carded for a foul on Ciaran Kilkenny and ultimately the Division 3 side ran out of steam in the closing stages as Dublin put on a late scoring burst, kicking 11 points in the last 19 minutes of the contest to again beat the bookies' 18-point handicap by a single point.

All six Dublin starting forwards scored from play while Fenton and Kilkenny contributed four points each. Even though they lost by 19 points, Longford acquitted themselves well – considering they played with 14 men from the 21st minute.

Dublin: S Cluxton; E Lowndes, M Fitzsimons, P Mc Mahon (0-1), J McCarthy (0-1), J Cooper, B Howard (0-1), B Fenton (0-4), MD Macauley; N Scully (0-1), C O'Callaghan (0-2), P Mannion (1-2); D Rock (1-6, 5f), C Kilkenny, (0-4), P Andrews (0-1). Subs: E Comerford for Cluxton (Blood Sub 22m; D Daly for Fitzsimons ht; J McCaffrey for Cooper ht; K McManamon for Andrews 49m; C Basquel (0-2) for Mannion 49; C O'Sullivan for McCarthy 54m; P Flynn for Macauley 56m.

Longford; P Collum; P Fox, P McCormack, D Masterson; M Quinn (0-1), D McElligott (0-1), D Mimnagh; D: Gallagher (0-1), C Berry; D Reynolds (0-1), D McGivney (0-1, 1f), L Connerton; R Smyth (0-5, 3f), J McGivney, R Brady (0-1). Subs: S McCormack (0-1) for Connerton 27m; B Gilleran for Quinn (BC) 55m; M Nally for D McGivney 64m; P Foy for Reynolds 65m; D Quinn for Masterson 65m; S Donohoe for Mimnagh 70m

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)

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