Jim Gavin highlights room for improvement as Brian Fenton inspires Dublin to victory over Kildare
Dublin 2-17 Kildare 2-10
DIFFERENT script, same old story.
Dublin footballers have held Kildare throats in a vice-grip for longer than most Lilywhite diehards care to remember. On Saturday night in Croke Park, they tightened that suffocating hold even further.
But not in the usual, fast-out-of-the-blocks manner.
On their return to Division 1 of the Allianz Football League, Kildare actually led the All-Ireland champions by two points – 1-6 to 0-7 - at the midpoint.
"We are up and running and we will take that result," Dublin boss Jim Gavin told RTÉ Sport.
"We are back training two weeks now. We were opened up a little bit and not as controlled as we would like to be.
"Our hand passing, kick passing and the fundamentals of our game weren't what they should have been, I wouldn't use the two weeks as an excuse, we just need to go after that now.
"We took some great shots and we were very clinical but how we closed out the game wouldn't be to our standards that's a credit to Kildare."
In truth, when you factor in a couple of spurned goal chances and seven first half wides, they should have led by more.
Fast-forward 14 minutes. The clock reads 49 minutes and Dublin lead by nine after shooting an unanswered 2-5. And that should read 4-5, for Niall Scully and Dean Rock both skewed glorious goal chances high and wide of the right Hill 16 upright before Kildare's world caved in completely.
Cian O'Neill's Leinster wannabes were a rabble in that third-quarter, their collapse sending out all manner of negative portents for the coming two months.
They were lucky to get away with those slashed wides by Scully and Rock; but then veteran Bernard Brogan came into his own with two of the deftest hand-pass goal assists after winning high deliveries ahead of his man.
The first, after 44 minutes, released Rock to pick his spot with a sweet low finish to the left corner of Mark Donnellan's net. There followed a long delay before Dublin gobbled up the next kickout and the ball was again worked to Brogan; this time he released the inrushing Brian Fenton and the midfielder buried a right footed shot.
Incredibly, that brought the two-time All Star midfielder's haul to 1-3 from play.
There followed a steady stream of Dublin points. Two of the fringe brigade, Colm Basquel (0-3) and Brian Howard (0-2), enhanced their prospects of further auditions … but, in truth, the fight had long since disappeared from the contest.
Kildare's second half riposte was confined to 0-4 from placed balls until, deep in stoppage-time, Daniel Flynn arced a spectacular goal to the top left corner.
It hardly qualified as consolation, even though it ensured a single-digit defeat and the smallest Kildare margin against the Dubs, in league or championship combat, since 2011.
Given their post-Christmas South African 'safari' and late return to collective training, perhaps it was no surprise to see Dublin looking a ring-rusty imitation of their usual fluent selves to begin with.
They already trailed to an early free from Neil Flynn (who departed through injury soon after) before Stephen Cluxton conceded his first goal of 2018 in the ninth minute.
The Dublin skipper has good reason to ask why his defenders had switched off so alarmingly in the preamble.
It began with a flying block by Jonny Cooper on Cathal McNally. Paul Cribbin picked up the break and his speculative shot veered beyond the far post … and there, lurking in glorious isolation, was wandering midfielder Luke Flynn.
With one catch and a low angled shot through Cluxton's legs, Kildare led by four.
Stirred from their slumber, Dublin kicked the next five points – a pair of Dean Rock frees supplemented by efforts from play by Niall Scully, Ciarán Kilkenny and Bernard Brogan, in the 20th minute, to edge ahead for the first time.
In the midst of all this, O'Neill had been forced into a second premature forward replacement, Niall Kelly replacing Chris Healy who was black-carded for pulling down Jonny Cooper.
Kildare then steadied themselves with a brace of their own – a Kevin Feely free followed by a wonderful solo point by Daniel Flynn, who left three Dubs in his wake before blasting a possible goal chance over the Hill crossbar.
However, the visitors were struggling on their own kickout and one Fenton 'mark' led to Kilkenny's second point.
Paul Cribbin and Fenton then swapped impressive scores before Kildare surged two clear late in the half via Daniel Flynn (this time a glorious goal opportunity that fizzed too high, with Eoin Doyle free on the overlap) and a 45m free from 'keeper Donnellan.
The half ended in an acrimonious melee sparked by a Niall Kelly push that earned a yellow card. A case of stirring the Sky Blue beast, perhaps?
SCORERS - Dublin: B Fenton 1-3, D Rock 1-2 (2f), C Basquel 0-3, C Kilkenny, N Scully, B Howard 0-2 each, B Brogan, J Small, K McManamon 0-1 each. Kildare: D Flynn 1-2, L Flynn 1-0, E Callaghan 0-3f, K Feely 0-2f, N Flynn (f), P Cribbin, M Donnellan (f) 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, D Byrne, D Daly; J Cooper, J McCarthy, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; N Scully, C Kilkenny, B Howard; C Basquel, D Rock, B Brogan. Subs: K McManamon for Macauley (46), E Lowndes for Cooper (51), P Mannion for Rock (55), P McMahon for Fitzsimons (55), C O'Shea for Daly (59), P Andrews for Brogan (60).
KILDARE: M Donnellan; D Hyland, M O'Grady, P Kelly; 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 (inj 5), N Kelly for Healy (BC 20), T Moolick for Conway (51), B McCormack for L Flynn (56), E Callaghan for Feely (61), M Hyland for P Kelly (61).
REF: C Lane (Cork).